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India loud on evidence, silent on parleysExternal affairs minister Jaswant Singh had one-on-one meetings with leaders of five of the seven Saarc nations here. Singh could not meet his Bangladesh counterpart Morshed Khan who had to rush off to Dhaka to receive British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Pakistan�s foreign minister Abdus Sattar was at hand through the day, but the twain did not �meet�. They only talked.
Stepping aside from the ministerial session working on the draft Kathmandu declaration that was adopted at the end of the day, Singh and Sattar chatted for 20 minutes in private, without any aides.
The behind-the-scenes tete-e-tete has renewed speculation about a similar session between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf, possibly during the retreat to Nagarcot, the hill station famous for its view of the Everest.
Pakistan said Musharraf was willing to meet Vajpayee. �We are not ruling out the possibility of a meeting, but it is not on the cards,� a Pakistani official said. The double-speak continued with the addition that there was a �strong possibility� of informal interaction.
India maintained its position that there can be no talks until Pakistan acts decisively against terrorists. Speaking in Lucknow, Vajpayee said: �First I would like to know what action Pakistan has taken against terrorists and their organisations, how many people have been arrested and what Pakistan thinks is the nature of their crime.�
In public, neither side is conceding there was a meeting between Singh and Sattar. Officially, that indeed is the correct position. Asked about a Pakistani claim that the �ice has melted�, Singh said: �I am not here to conduct India-Pakistan relations.�
Singh answered consistent Pakistani calls for evidence against the terrorists named in the list India has handed over by releasing a two-page document that contained information passed on to Islamabad on individuals and groups involved in strikes in India.
Starting from March 1993 with mentions of Dawood Ibrahim and the Memon brothers � held responsible for the blasts in Mumbai � the document names hijackers of the Indian Airlines flight and ends with the demarche handed over by foreign secretary Chokila Iyer that referred to the December 13 attack on Parliament.
�Proven terrorists, criminals and narcotics peddlers � why should they find shelter in Pakistan?� Singh said.
The minister, who read out the document, added: �We have provided evidence about the terrorists over the past decade to Pakistan. Even thereafter, we hear this same refrain (about evidence).�
Singh said Pakistan had not communicated to India what steps it had taken against terrorist groups.
Pakistani officials have been frugal with information on the claimed crackdown on militant groups. There were reports in the media of 100 more activists of Lashkar, Jaish and Sipah-e-Sahaba being arrested yesterday.
Ahead of the Saarc summit beginning tomorrow, foreign ministers tonight finalised the draft declaration that highlights combating terrorism in all its forms. Singh said: �It (the draft) will reflect Saarc�s concerns on terrorism since this scourge has been troubling the region in one form or the other.�
Vajpayee, who is already in Kathmandu, declared his mission for the summit in his last public utterances before leaving India. �Atankabaad ko zordaar dhang se uthaenge� (the issue of terrorism will be strongly raised).
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Once Musharraf decided out of pique not to overfly India and leased a Chinese aircraft to fly from Chengdu to Kathmandu, US secretary of state Colin Powell hastily phoned Tang Jiaxuan, his counterpart in Beijing.
Powell is understood to have suggested that Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji should use the opportunity of a meeting with Musharraf to urge him to crack down decisively on terrorists within Pakistan.
China�s Xinhua news agency quoted Tang as telling Powell about the India-Pakistan stand-off: �If the situation goes out of control and leads to a large-scale armed conflict, not only both India and Pakistan will suffer, but also the peace process in Afghanistan will be adversely affected and the stability and development of South Asia and even the whole of Asia will be endangered.�
In Washington, state department spokesman Richard Boucher said: �We have been in touch with the Chinese. We continue to be in touch with the Chinese through our embassy in Beijing to talk about the situation in India and Pakistan.�
Stressing the intense US diplomatic activity, Boucher added: �In fact, we have been keeping in touch with the neighbourhood, people in the region, and we will continue to have contacts with the Chinese, both on the specifics of the visits there, but also on the more general situation, which is of concern to neighbours as well as to us.�
Zhu is due in India in another 10 days when the Chinese would be able to apprise Indian leaders of any headway they may have made with Musharraf.
Indicating that Musharraf�s presence in Beijing was more than a stopover was his decision to hastily pull Pakistan�s foreign secretary Inam-ul-Haque out of Kathmandu so that the diplomat could join the President in China.
Diplomatic sources here said they were expecting Musharraf to announce a well-packaged strategy of curbing terrorism soon after his return from Kathmandu. Musharraf expects that this will considerably ease the pressure now being piled on him even by friends in Beijing and Washington.
Sources said that just before his departure for Beijing, Musharraf chaired a high-level meeting in Islamabad to discuss the outlines of such a strategy.
The meeting was attended by all of Pakistan�s provincial governors, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, the vice-chief of the army staff, all provincial chief secretaries and inspectors-general of police.
President George W. Bush on Wednesday spoke for 10 minutes on telephone to British Prime Minister Tony Blair on India and Pakistan for the second time in five days.
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�The letters have been sent to district magistrates in the three states to take immediate action for closing down PCOs (public call offices) with STD/ISD services. They will coordinate with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and private operators,� a home ministry official said.
The campaign, spurred by security concerns, is being intensified despite an indication by communications minister Pramod Mahajan today that the controversial closure order in Jammu and Kashmir would be reviewed.
Sources in BSNL, too, said the home ministry had approached them on the feasibility of widening the STD/ISD booth ban to new areas which the ministry felt were �sensitive�.
�A few places in Rajasthan, Punjab and Gujarat will be affected. The PCOs and Internet cafes will be asked to close shop and their connections will be cut. We are awaiting the list of places where PCOs and Internet cafes will have to be closed,� a a BSNL official said.
�Customers will suffer but we are helpless since the company is bound by the directives of the government and it is a issue of national security,� he added.
Mahajan said during the day that the government had �enough reasons� for restricting PCO users from making STD and ISD calls.
Officials said private operators will also be affected as they are present in these three states.
A senior executive of one of the telecom companies said: �We had jammed all calls to Pakistan soon after the December 13 attack and we will follow whatever steps needed to be taken in the interest of national security.�
Communications ministry sources pointed out that licence conditions allow the government to ask operators to jam calls or hand over facilities to official agencies whenever security considerations demand so.
BSNL officials said these measures would help check flow of information to terrorist groups as well as foreign intelligence agencies.
But they added that �terrorists or spies can use other sophisticated means like satellite phones which are difficult to track. They can also travel to those areas where the ban does not exist to transmit information.�
The only way to counter this is to closely monitor telecom networks and Internet traffic. This requires more personnel and sophisticated tracking equipment, which the government would find difficult to install fast.
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Bubs Mahil, the 36-year-old London-based designer who has made a collection for his wife, Cherie, to take with her, confirmed that the Prime Minister �would be wearing �something� on this trip�.
Mahil, who is of Punjabi origin, was reluctant to be more specific because of a phone call from Cherie Blair�s press office warning the designer not to say too much to the media.
If Blair does wear his Nehru jacket in India, he will not be the first senior British political leader to make sartorial history. The mould was broken by the Tory Michael Portillo, who wore a sherwani at an Asian Rich List dinner last year.
Blair has not worn anything eastern up to now and this move is being seen as a gesture of conciliation. However, Cherie does regularly wear chic Indian outfits and has taken an entire collection made in silk with her. �It�s a wide range of things, from casual to semi-formal to formal,� said Mahil.
Cherie has opted for the tried and tested colours that suit her. She has gone for �off white, dusty pinks, blues, those sort of shades�, added Mahil, who was given a brief by Downing Street and came up with a range of outfits to suit the many formal and informal occasions the couple would have to attend.
Mahil was guarded about the type of clothes that Cherie might wear but, judging from previous occasions, it is clear that the Prime Minister�s wife prefers trousers to saris. At Indian occasions in London in the past, she has favoured the ethnic look.
Her style consists usually of three-quarter length coats, short tops and loose trousers with subtle embroidered work at the bottom. �I think it flatters her,� said Mahil, who has known Cherie since she first dressed her for the Asian Rich List dinner in 1998. That was the only time Cherie wore an oyster-coloured sari with an embroidered blouse. �I don�t think I�d put her in a sari again to be honest,� she commented. �I think it looked lovely on her then. Now she�s got so much of a younger, trendier look.�
Mahil, the Indian designer favoured by Cherie, works from a retail shop, Chiffons, on Green Street in East London. In her shop today, she had a Christmas card sent by the Blairs.
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India�s foreign minister Jaswant Singh sought to put a straight face on the issue when he was asked if the India-Pakistan tensions have hijacked Saarc�s economic agenda. �Saarc is an economic forum,� he said but pleaded helplessness when his press briefing turned out to yet another round of point-counter-point between the two.
In fact, Nepal, the host country, has long been complaining that the India-Pakistan bilateral problems had stunted Saarc�s growth and the economic regeneration of the poor South Asian region. The two major political parties of Nepal � the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) � have openly made their complaint on this.
Couching his complaint in diplomatic language, Arjun Bahadur Singh, Nepal�s minister of state for foreign affairs, has said peace between India and Pakistan was a prerequisite for making Saarc a meaningful body.
Nepal also blamed the two big partners for the long delay in the present Saarc summit, which was originally scheduled for November 1999. That time India declined to take part in it, citing the Kargil war and the then Pakistan army chief Pervez Musharraf�s coup which topped the Nawaz Sharif government a month before the scheduled summit. Not only Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, too, complained that their economic interests had suffered because of India-Pakistan hold-ups.
Officially, though, the economic business was conducted this time according to schedule. A resolution was taken to finalise the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) by the end of this year. Earlier, SAFTA was to be finalised by December, 2001.
This morning, the meeting of the foreign ministers decided to reconstitute the South Asian Independent Commission for Poverty Alleviation, which was set up in 1992 with former Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Bhattarai as chairman. But it remained a dead instrument. No wonder when Jaswant Singh met the foreign ministers of Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bhutan this morning, terrorism dominated his presentations. Economic issues too were discussed, but in passing, as it were.
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Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, who have been taking an extended holiday in Egypt, did not return to Britain but instead flew directly today to Bangladesh. Though Downing Street will not divulge travel details for security reasons, the couple will be in India from January 4-7.
Lord Paul, who heads the Caparo steel group in London and is a well known contributor to Labour party funds, moved yesterday to Mumbai from Hyderabad, which Blair will also be visiting to review aid projects.
Paul, speaking to The Telegraph from Mumbai, underlined the importance of the Bangalore trip for Blair. He said: "It will be good for him to be seen in Bangalore. After the US, Britain is India�s leading trading partner and we in India are one of the world leaders in IT technology. India has the best software in the world. India and Britain could be partners."
On the prospects for military confrontation, Paul was cautious: "It�s my own belief that neither country wants war but what happened on December 13 was not nice. Tony Blair has been keen to visit India for a long time. This trip was rushed through because it would have been difficult to fit in during the rest of the year."
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Thirty-year-old James Syiemiong�s WTC is, however, not a concrete structure. Neither does the famous abbreviation stand for �World Trade Center�. Instead, it means the �world�s tallest chappals�, a claim the shoemaker wants the Guinness Book of World Records to verify and record for posterity.
�The abbreviation �WTC� has dual meaning. The world�s tallest chappals speak of my creativity as well as the grandeur of the twin towers before they were demolished by terrorists. The soles of the shoes represent �terror�, something that should always be trampled upon or kept beneath the feet,� Syiemiong told The Telegraph.
Syiemiong said his designer shoes, over two metres in length, was �taller� than the 1.65-metre pair made by German shoemaker and Guinness record-holder Heinz Plate. It took him exactly a month to make the shoes, a challenge he took up after watching the twin towers crumble on September 11 last year. Scores of metres of pure leather � �enough to make 100 pairs of normal shoes� � went into the making of the gigantic shoes.
Though nobody will ever wear the pair of shoes, which are of �size 300�, Syiemiong is sure his efforts will not go unrecognised.
The youth, who inherited the art of making footwear from his father Vincent Vishnu Chettri, said he derived immense satisfaction from crafting the shoes with his hands. �I did not use a frame or modern technology to achieve the feat,� he said.
Syiemiong started out in the shoemaking business in 1990 with a government loan sanctioned under the Prime Minister�s Rozgar Yojana.
Nine years later, he won a Rotary award for excellence in leather craftsmanship. The turning point of his life was making a size-28 pair of shoes for a 19-year old customer from Oman.
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Poor health, lack of political consensus and a reluctance to step down before contesting are some of the key factors influencing Narayanan�s rethink.
Narayanan is willing to stay if the entire political establishment backs his candidature. But the possibility is unlikely with both the NDA and the Opposition polarised sharply.
Non-serious candidates like Ram Jethmalani could also queer the pitch for Narayanan and force a contest. Jethmalani has already announced his candidature for the presidential polls scheduled for July.
The Congress and the Left are favourably inclined towards Narayanan. Some Congress Working Committee members have even conveyed this to the President.
The Opposition has an edge in the electoral college that votes in the President but Narayanan will have a problem in accepting sponsorship from the Opposition ranks. Since Independence, successive Presidents have been backed by the ruling party.
Moreover, Narayanan will have to step down if he enters the fray. In theory, this means he will lose pension and other perks if defeated.
However, it is not that serving Presidents have never sought a second term. After Zakir Hussain�s death, Vice-President V.V. Giri became President. But when Giri contested against Sanjeeva Reddy, he stepped down and then Chief Justice M. Hidayatullah served as acting President.
Narayanan has not been keeping well for some time. The octogenarian leader has not visited his home state Kerala for almost two years. His visit to Ireland has been put off. The post of the secretary to the President has been lying vacant for more than a year-and-a-half. He has not even appointed a full-fledged press secretary at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Recently, the Congress received feelers from the BJP on finding a middle course for the presidential and vice-presidential polls. However, no progress was made as international developments and the attack on Parliament shifted the focus to security-related matters.
If Narayanan backs out, jockeying will start afresh for the coveted post. The names of Maharashtra Governor P.C. Alexender, Karan Singh, former high commissioner to the UK Laxmi Mal Singhvi as well as Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah are doing the rounds.
Vice-President Krishan Kant and Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah are also nursing Presidential ambitions.
Heptullah, Abdullah and Kant are eyeing the Vice-President�s post, too. The election of the Vice-President will take place two months after the President is elected.
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�We cannot just be emotional about the issue. We have to look at it from the point of view of the reading public and the market,� a human resources development ministry official said.
Tagore�s works will be cheaper now that Visva-Bharati�s monopoly over publishing rights has ended.
Long before the copyright term was to end on December 31 midnight, the university senate began petitioning the human resources development ministry to amend the Copyright Act one more time so that Visva-Bharati could retain its sole prerogative over Tagore�s works.
During the monsoon session of Parliament, West Bengal Congress MP Priya Ranjan Das Munshi raised the issue in the Lok Sabha on behalf of the university. �Visva-Bharati wanted us to extend the existing tenure of protection from 60 to 70 years,� said an official.
In 1991, when the 50-year copyright lease was to end, the Centre had given in to pressure and amended the Act to give the university 10 more years to run its �fiat� over Tagore�s works.
In almost all developing countries, the tenure of copyright pans 50 years while in Europe and the US it is 70 years.
This time, both Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who is also chancellor of the university, and human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi were against re-amending the Copyright Act just to pander to one university.
The advantages of putting Tagore�s works in the �public domain� far outweighed those of keeping them under Visva-Bharati�s wings.
The Centre argued that if it extended the copyright tenure for Visva-Bharati by 10 years, it would have to apply the same principle to publishers in all countries.
�If I make the copyright tenure 70 years in my country, it will have to be the same for all others, including Europe and USA,� argued ministry officials. They explained that most technical, engineering and medical books come from outside India. �And these books will continue to be costly as long as we keep paying royalty to these countries,� the officials added.
Visva-Bharati had rested its case on preserving the �purity� of Tagore�s works. The university vice-chancellor felt his institution was best suited for the job.
But the Centre is not buying this argument. Officials point out that William Shakespeare�s works have not been sullied by being in the public domain.
The Centre stresses that readers will benefit from its decision not to renew the copyright tenure for Visva-Bharati. �There is a simple market mechanism that works. If OUP can bring out better editions of Tagore�s works, why should the reader be deprived?� an official asked.
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Sunrise: 6.23 am