India keeps Nepal channel open
Pak transfers troops, talks peace
Party salutes Diplomat Atal
Fresh lease for terror Ordinance
Naxalites kill MLA
Special flight for envoys
Big B, Sachin team up

New Delhi, Dec. 29: 
India today ruled out a meeting between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf in Kathmandu next week and made light of reports that Pakistan has arrested 50 terrorists, saying it needed to ascertain the facts.

But to assure the outside world that all channels of communication between the neighbours have not snapped, Delhi indicated that a window of opportunity was there for a meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries.

National security adviser Brajesh Mishra articulated the tough posture at a meeting with the Group of Eight ambassadors today. Mishra said Delhi was willing to talk on all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, but would not return to the talks table till Islamabad takes �credible, firm, substantive and visible� action against terrorists based in Pakistan and in territories under its control.

Mishra said the rising tension in South Asia following the troop build-up along the India-Pakistan border was because of Musharraf�s recalcitrant stand. He asked the world leaders to put pressure on the military dictator to take immediate steps against terrorists to bring down the temperature in the region.

Vajpayee and Musharraf will both be in Kathmandu for the Saarc summit, beginning January 4. Though the Prime Minister and the Pakistan President will share a common platform with other regional heads, a bilateral meeting is unlikely.

�India has always advocated dialogue with Pakistan. But under the present circumstances, unless Pakistan creates a conducive atmosphere by acting meaningfully and resolutely against terrorism, the outlook for such a dialogue cannot be promising,� foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said. Reports from Islamabad suggested Musharraf was keen on holding talks with Vajpayee when they meet in Kathmandu.

However, a meeting between foreign minister Jaswant Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Abdus Sattar � though not yet planned � may take place. The two will be in the Nepalese capital from January 2 for the Saarc foreign ministers� meeting, which precedes the summit.

Asked whether the two would meet, Rao was guarded. �No meeting has been planned between the two,� she said, but added that Singh and Sattar had exchanged pleasantries when they met in Kabul a week earlier and �will be civil to each other� when they meet next week in Kathmandu.

The remarks indicate that though India is ruling out the possibility of a dialogue at the highest political level with Pakistan, it may still keep contacts between the two foreign ministers alive.

South Block feels this will at least assure the outside world that India and Pakistan are still trying to break their current impasse through peaceful negotiations.

But at the moment Delhi is not willing to go any further. It has decided to keep up the pressure and also the possibility of a military strike if the diplomatic options yield no results. It is a ploy aimed at both Islamabad and the outside world.

Rao also sought to downplay reports about the arrest of 50 terrorists by Pakistani authorities, saying: �We�ve seen media reports in this regard, but will make our independent assessment.�


Islamabad, Dec. 29: 
Pakistan has begun withdrawing troops along its western frontier with Afghanistan amid rising tension with India, witnesses said today.

A Reuters reporter saw troops pulling out and packing up anti-aircraft guns installed at some border points. �We have received orders to move,� one soldier said when asked why they were leaving the Afghan frontier, where Pakistan had deployed additional forces to keep Osama bin Laden and his al Qaida loyalists out of the country.

�You know what�s going on there or what may happen,� he said, apparently referring to the troop build-up on the border with India and fears of war.

President Pervez Musharraf, however, ruled out the possibility of war with India. �I can safely say that 95 per cent chances of war do not exist...,� the English daily Dawn quoted him as saying.

Foreign minister Abdus Sattar described India�s military moves as �disturbing and dangerous� but said Pakistan would continue to act with restraint. �More disturbing and dangerous are the military moves and preparations for war by India in the last 10 days,� he said at a news briefing here.

Sattar said Pakistan was ready for dialogue at any level, anytime and anywhere. �At the same time, such a dialogue has to depend on the mutual desire of the parties to � hold talks.�

To a question about Musharraf meeting the Indian Prime Minister during the Saarc summit in Kathmandu, he said: �We are not requesting such a meeting but Pakistan will respond positively to any indication of a desire on the other side for such a meeting.�

He also confirmed that the leader of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, Masood Azhar, has been placed under detention along with some 50 people.

The foreign minister said Indian leaders have engaged in shrill and threatening rhetoric and Pakistan cannot ignore the mounting threat.

�Our armed forces have taken necessary precautions,� he said, but added: �We did not initiate any measure to aggravate tension. We have refrained from making alarming or inflammatory statements, and sought to keep open channels of communication.�

Sattar said world leaders have called up Musharraf expressing alarm about the spiralling tension. In the last four days, he said, Musharraf has received phone calls from French President Jacques Chirac, US secretary of state Colin Powell, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. . Foreign ministers of Canada, Germany, Oman, Qatar and the UK have conveyed their anxiety, Sattar said. Chirac also called up Atal Bihari Vajpayee today.

Sattar said Pakistan appreciated their concern. �They know Pakistan wants de-escalation and recourse to diplomacy and dialogue,� he said.


New Delhi, Dec. 29: 
The BJP today threw its weight behind the government�s diplomatic offensive but hoped for �more such steps� to convince Pakistan that it would have to weed out terrorism from within if it wanted to join the global coalition against the menace.

�The steps taken so far by our government have the full support of the nation,� party chief K. Jana Krishnamurthi said in his opening remarks at a specially convened meeting of the national executive here to discuss terrorism.

�And, it is but natural that the people expect many more such steps to make Pakistan realise that if it were to join the international fight against terrorism, it cannot dilute it by its support to terrorism from within its soil.�

The rest of Krishnamurthi�s address was low-key and devoid of the hawkish rhetoric that has marked the BJP�s responses since the December 13 attack on Parliament. There was not even the hint of a suggestion to cross the Line of Control and bombard terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Krishnamurthi said the government �rightly pursued the diplomatic path to make Pakistan understand its duty and responsibility at this juncture to take stern action against terrorists and their groups� operating from its soil. He also lauded the Centre for taking �such steps that are necessary� to guard against attacks.

The government was not only �responsive to the expectations of the nation� but also �responsible�, he said.

While the BJP had no suggestion on handling Pakistan, Krishnamurthi came up with suggestions for the next general and rail budgets. Among them was removal of taxes and other levies on agriculture inputs and implements so that the farm sector could benefit from lower production costs.

Pointing out that the finance minister had said the coming budget would focus on agriculture, he asked if it would be �difficult� for the government to �find ways and means by which the cost of production of our agricultural products can be brought down�. He urged the government to make passenger fares and freight rates competitive.

PM to meet Opposition leaders

Vajpayee has convened a meeting of Opposition leaders tomorrow to brief them about the government�s diplomatic measures against Pakistan and discuss the future of Indo-Pak ties. He has invited Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Somnath Chatterjee, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Sharad Pawar.

NDA leaders Mamata Banerjee and K. Yerran Naidu, who are supporting the government from outside, have also been invited.


New Delhi, Dec. 29: 
The Centre has decided to extend the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance by six months, with minor changes, after failing to get the anti-terror Bill passed despite the December 13 attack on Parliament.

The changes are an attempt to �soften� the Opposition�s resistance and make it more amenable to the legislation when it is placed in Parliament next year.

The decision to re-promulgate the Ordinance, which would have lapsed on December 31, was taken at today�s Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The Ordinance drops the �anti-press� clause, which made it compulsory for reporters to disclose their sources if the authorities demanded.

The amendments included reducing the life of the proposed legislation from five to three years from the date of commencement. The Telugu Desam had suggested that the rule should be valid for three years.

One point about the terror law that worried both politicians and human rights groups was the kind of power that was being invested with police officials. The new Ordinance makes a half-hearted attempt to amend this. It provides for an appeal against the order made by the designated authority to the special court.


Hyderabad, Dec. 29: 
Within hours of the government announcing that an all-party meeting would be held on negotiations with the outlawed People�s War Group, the Naxalites struck again.

PWG guerrillas shot dead Congress legislator from Devarakonda D. Ragya Naik early this morning at his native village of Maddimadagu in Mahboobnagar district.

The legislator�s wife, Bharati Naik, was behind him when the extremists struck.

Ragya Naik, 51, a tribal, was elected from the reserved constituency after defeating his nearest rival of the CPI. He is survived by five sons and a daughter.

He was participating in a jatra at the Hanuman temple in his village when five activists of the Achampet guerrilla squad shot him at point blank range after snatching the gun from his bodyguard.

Mahboobnagar additional superintendent of police B. Malla Reddy said the legislator had not informed the police of his visit. �We were not informed of the tribal legislator�s visit otherwise we could have given him some more gunmen as escort and, perhaps, prevented the sad incident,� Reddy said.

Two days ago, Ragya Naik had complained to the Speaker of the Assembly about his security. �My pleas to (the) government have fallen on deaf ears,� he had pleaded.

Though Ragya Naik was entitled to four armed guards, the state government had provided him with only one gunman.

Following a series of Naxalite strikes this year, the Telugu Desam government had taken a big step towards reconciliation by agreeing to hold talks with the PWG to instil confidence among villagers and industrialists.

Ragya Naik is the second legislator to be killed by the PWG this year, the first being home minister A. Madhav Reddy, who was killed in a landmine blast near Bhongir.


New Delhi, Dec 29: 
The Indian government will fly a special Airbus 300 to Islamabad to pick up its diplomats and their families.

�The flight had been booked for today but then we were told that there could be a delay of a day or two,� an Indian Airlines director said.

Following the tit-for-tat decisions to halve high commission strengths, India had to cut its staff in Pakistan�s capital. India today handed Pakistan a list of its 54 high commission staff members who are being recalled.

Sources said the flight to Islamabad had been delayed because many family members of diplomats staying at the Indian mission might also choose to come back due to heightened war fears. The list of such people is being drawn up.

Some family members of the diplomats had already returned to India after September 11, the sources said. Airline officials said the external affairs ministry would be seeking the necessary permission to fly over Pakistani airspace. No Indian commercial or charter flight has flown through Pakistani airspace since the terror attacks in the US.

In a possible exchange, the external affairs ministry has allowed Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to operate a special flight on New Year�s day from Delhi to Lahore and Karachi.

This flight is expected to mop up the rush of Pakistani passengers trying to get back home before the December 31 deadline, snapping air, rail and road links between the two countries.

The special PIA flight will take off at 6 pm on New Year�s day. Passengers will have to reach the airport at least five hours before it departs. PIA has announced that its offices will remain open on Sunday, December 30, to cope with the rush.


New Delhi, Dec. 29: 
Pepsi is preparing to uncork its latest commercial that will feature two of India�s biggest celebrity endorsers � Amitabh Bachchan and Sachin Tendulkar.

�Amitabh and Sachin have been endorsing our brand for a long time. But this is the first time that we are bringing them together,� says a company source.

The Big B has been endorsing Pepsi for the past three years, while Sachin came on board eight years ago.

Company sources claim that the two celebrities are not getting any extra money for the ads, which are being made under their respective contracts with the company.

The company is also keeping the ad storyboard under wraps, but it is learnt that the production schedule for the first TV commercial has already been shot in Jodhpur. Post-production work is going on and the ad will hit the small screen at the end of January. Sources say the ad will retain its now famous punchline: �Yeh dil mange more.

Pepsi, whose ad spend is about 3 per cent of its overall sales, says it plans to run a series of commercials featuring Amitabh and Sachin. The new ad is being directed by ace ad filmmaker Prahlad Kakkar from MAD Films of Mumbai.

In the past, Pepsi had brought Shah Rukh Khan and Sachin together in its commercial. HTA has the Pepsi account.

Pepsi has also signed up Abhishek Bachchan as its brand endorser from the beginning of January. Abhishek hit the ad trail with the Maruti Versa ad which also featured the Big B. However, Pepsi refused to say whether it would also feature the father-son duo.

Apart from Abhishek, Kareena Kapoor and Fardeen Khan are going to be the new faces for Pepsi in 2002. As of now, Pepsi�s celebrity endorsers include Preity Zinta, Cyrus Broacha, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Ajit Agarkar.


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