Church attack jolts Musharraf
Mystery death in Natwar family
Godhra spearhead caught
Sangh stirs wound as Atal plays healer
Ayodhya push in ‘last wish’
Police pay for VHP vandals
Special team to hunt down VC
Calcutta Weather

Islamabad, March 17: 
The bottled-up backlash against Pervez Musharraf’s jihad on terror exploded on one of the most secure zones in Pakistan today, claiming two American lives and swivelling international spotlight on the still-intact vigour of the extremists.

An American diplomat’s wife and teenaged daughter were among five people killed when an attacker tossed grenades inside a Protestant church during a Sunday service in the diplomatic quarter of Islamabad.

Forty-two people from various nations, including the Sri Lankan ambassador, were wounded and the toll could rise. Officials said six or seven people were gravely hurt. An Indian embassy employee, Tomy Mathews, escaped unhurt.

No one claimed responsibility till late in the night but suspicion fell on militant groups opposed to Musharraf’s support for the US-led war on terror after the September 11 attacks on America.

President George W. Bush joined Musharraf in condemning the strike, saying he was “outraged by the terrorist attack”. “We will work closely with the government of Pakistan to ensure those responsible for this terrorist attack face justice,” Bush said.

Musharraf — who has banned seven militant groups and ordered the detention of hundreds of activists since September 11 — called the attack a “ghastly act of terrorism” aimed at “sabotaging the interests of Pakistan at a time when the country is actively engaged in eliminating terrorism”.

The attack, which comes close on the heels of the kidnap and murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl, puts the pressure back on Musharraf to counter allegations that he had taken only superficial measures to rein in militants. The audacious grenade strike also lends weight to India’s insistence that Musharraf must do more for the two nations to resume talks.

US assistant secretary of state for South Asia, Christina Rocca, who is in India now, may cut short her visit and fly to Islamabad tomorrow.

In an embarrassing coincidence, the Pakistan government announced this evening the release of a pro-Taliban leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who was detained as part of a nationwide swoop which netted 2,000 extremists.

On Thursday, a US grand jury had indicted Saeed Omar Sheikh, under arrest in Pakistan for Pearl’s kidnapping and killing, lodging charges that could bring the death penalty if he is turned over to the US and convicted. So far, Pakistan has been resisting US pressure to extradite Omar.

Bush did not make any adverse comment today but a voice of concern did rise in America. “I appreciate and respect President Musharraf and what he is doing, but it’s clear that he does not have control over parts of his country and elements of his society and he’s got a long way to go,” Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and former navy pilot, said on television.

The 60 to 70 people at the Protestant International Church, a popular place of worship for foreigners in Islamabad, had sung hymns and were listening to the sermon when the grenades were hurled.

The spiritual calm was shattered by a blast at the back of the hall and one man rushed up the aisle brandishing grenades and shouting, witnesses said.

The wife of diplomat Milton Green and his teenage daughter Kristen were killed. Green and his son were injured. His wife, Barbara, also worked at the US embassy and Kristen was studying at the International School in the city.


New Delhi, March 17: 
Natasha Singh, estranged daughter-in-law of Congress leader K. Natwar Singh, was found dead on the first-floor terrace of Delhi’s five-star Hyatt Regency Hotel early this morning.

The 31-year-old model-turned photographer and mother of two young boys had left her Greater Kailash terrace-home, where she has been living alone, at 11.30 last night for a party. Her body, found around 6.30 this morning, showed no bullet marks or stab wounds in the post-mortem.

“The post-mortem reveals that several of her ribs and other bones were broken, apparently in a fall,” a senior officer said.

An SMS message, believed to have been sent from Natasha’s mobile phone (9810099411) to her friends last night, said: “I am going to another world.”

Although the message might suggest Natasha was preparing to commit suicide, the police have registered a murder case and have spoken to her husband, Jagat Singh, a Young Congress general secretary.

The deputy commissioner of police (southwest), Taj Hassan, said: “We sought some verification of facts from him over phone.”

Hassan said the post-mortem revealed that “some alcohol was present in her body”.

On the seventh floor of the hotel, a bottle of whisky was found with nearly 200 millilitres already drunk, possibly by Natasha, Hassan said. She was last seen at 0035 hours in the hotel lobby.

A distress SMS message was sent to Jagat also. Jagat dismissed suggestions of his involvement in the suspected murder as disgusting, saying that Natasha was the mother of his children and he very much loved her.

Natasha, born of a Jordanian father and Indian mother, and Jagat married in 1993 and have two children aged five and six. They have been living separately for at least a year and have filed for divorce. Lawyer and Rajya Sabha MP R.K. Anand, who represents Jagat in the divorce case, said the two sides were trying to settle the dispute over custody of their children out of court.

The incident came to light when the police followed up a complaint lodged by Natasha’s counsel Sushmita Deb at the Greater Kailash police station in south Delhi that Natasha had gone missing since midnight last night after a party.

Deb said she went to Natasha’s residence on hearing about the SMS message but did not find her there. “I first called the police station from Natasha’s residential phone and later made a written complaint,” she said.

Malvika Raj Kothari, also a counsel for the deceased, said Natasha and Jagat had a “very tempestuous kind of relationship” but the last time “I met her... She (Natasha) did say that Jagat seemed to be sort of softer and gentler”.

“I asked whether she had planned to patch up things and she said ‘I don’t think I could go back’,” Kothari said.


Ahmedabad, March 17: 
The Gujarat administration today announced the arrest of the man accused of leading the mob that torched the Sabarmati Express.

Haji Bilal, an Independent corporator linked to the underworld, was arrested during a raid on a Godhra house by the anti-terrorism squad and police.

Eyewitnesses had said Bilal led the mob and prevented the fire brigade from reaching the burning bogies, according to the police.

Deputy superintendent of police Raju Bhargav said Bilal was caught when he was about to move out of the town. Authorities said Bilal’s interrogation could unravel the truth behind the Godhra carnage.

A known history-sheeter of Godhra , Bilal had been linked to Ahmedabad don Latif Ganga, who started out as a pickpocket and chain-snatcher and operated on trains passing through Godhra.

Bhargav claimed that Bilal had gone to Pakistan twice — in 1992 and 1993. Two years ago, he was elected to the Godhra municipal board and later bagged the post of chairman of the standing committee.

Bilal is the second prominent member of the civic board to be arrested in the Godhra case. Mohammad Kolota, president of the Godhra municipality, was arrested within a week of the incident. Bilal has been remanded in custody for 15 days.

Three people were killed in sporadic clashes today.


Bangalore, March 17: 
The RSS today asked the minority community to “understand that their real safety lies in the goodwill of the majority”, disowning point by point the Prime Minister’s impassioned appeal yesterday to heal the Ayodhya wound.

“They are safe provided they win over the goodwill of the majority community. The Muslims should respect the sentiments of the majority community and cooperate with it,” the RSS said in a chilling warning that rounded off its annual general meeting here.

Less than 24 hours after A.B. Vajpayee told the Lok Sabha that the post-Godhra killings were “unjustified”, the RSS passed a resolution describing the carnage as a “natural and spontaneous reaction”.

If the resolution had any element of ambiguity, the RSS’ joint general secretary, Madan Das Devi, removed it later. “Yes, I justify the post-Godhra killings as spontaneous actions,” he told reporters.

Reminded of the Prime Minister’s statement that all killings should be condemned outright, Devi said: “Vajpayee is the Prime minister. He has to condemn all killings. We are speaking as a Hindu organisation.”

Vajpayee has unequivocally assured the House that the government would wait for a court judgment in the Ayodhya case. But the RSS asked today: “How can the law decide where Ram was born? It is a matter of faith.”

“Ayodhya is a core issue and cannot be wished away by anyone. It has to be solved through negotiations, a resolution or a court verdict,” said Devi.

The RSS stuck to its uncompromising public posture on the “core issue” but glossed over the Vajpayee government’s economic policies, fuelling speculation that Hindutva has been reinstated as the guiding force of the Sangh parivar.

The Sangh did not pass a resolution on liberalisation, though its vocal opponents — leaders of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch — were delegates at the meeting.

The three resolutions passed were on the Ayodhya ‘movement’, the Godhra killings and refugees fleeing Bangladesh.

The RSS also advised the media to “project incidents in their truthful perspective to restore national harmony”.

The RSS said in the resolution that “although a few Muslim leaders hold the current interpretation of jihad as absolutely wrong and in no way support the jihadi terrorism, it should be admitted that these people have not been able to influence the present-day extremist jihadi leaders and stubborn mullahs and maulavis.”

The resolution added that “it does no credit to the Muslim community to allow themselves to be made pawns in the hands of extremist Muslim leaders and Hindu-baiting elements”.

The RSS did find fault with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi but for failing to prevent the Godhra outrage. It claimed that “the entire Hindu society, cutting across all divisions of party, caste and social status, reacted” to the Godhra tragedy.

“It is unfortunate that a number of people died in the violence that erupted. But certain political parties in their usual greed to garner en bloc Muslim votes turned a blind eye to the original action…,” the resolution said.


New Delhi, March 17: 
Opinion favouring an out-of-court settlement of the Ayodhya tangle is gathering momentum among leaders of the minority community.

The community leaders, cutting across political affiliations, are convinced that courts have limitations in implementing verdicts on sensitive issues.

Advocates of resolution through a dialogue point to the number of cases pending before the courts.

In Delhi alone, 123 wakf properties, mainly dargahs and graveyards, have been lying neglected for 18 years. These properties were caught between claims and counter-claims after Partition.

Indira Gandhi had appointed a committee headed by civil servant S.M.H. Burney, which identified them as wakf properties. They were then handed over to the Delhi Wakf Board for a token rent of Re 1. But the VHP moved court in 1984, seeking control and offering to pay an enhanced rent. Since then, the matter has been pending before Delhi High Court.

Scores of such cases are pending in Karnataka, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and other states where the executive and the political class have failed to ensure the implementation of court verdicts.

One of the factors that have heightened the sense of urgency is the failing health of Qazi Mujahid-ul-Islam, who heads the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board.

Islam has conveyed to his close associates that it is his last wish — like that of his predecessor, the late Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi (Ali Mian) — to see restoration of harmony between Hindus and Muslims in the country, which he refers to as a darul-aman (land of peace).

The problem before the personal law board is two-fold. It is all for an inter-faith dialogue, but is apprehensive about the Vajpayee regime’s “true intentions” in view of “conflicting voices” from within the Sangh parivar.

Second, and perhaps more important, the board is clueless on what the government and the VHP are willing to offer as part of a compromise formula on Ayodhya.

Referring to the Prime Minister’s statement in Parliament yesterday that he would try for an amicable solution, Muslim leaders said they have received several emissaries but none was willing to spell out a concrete offer.

The envoys, however, seemed keener to know what Muslims would do if a judgment on Ayodhya favoured them. “They want to know if we will give them bhiksha. We, on the other hand, want to know what they intend to give us,” said a board member.

Moderates on the board cite various precedents in Islamic history to underscore the belief that a settlement on the issue is possible.

Prophet Mohammed himself signed the Sulah-e-Hudaibya accord after conquering Mecca. Some of the Prophet’s lieutenants had reservations about the pact, but he prevailed upon them by pointing at the overriding need for peace.

Similarly, Caliph Omar declined to offer namaz at a Bethlehem church after conquering Palestine on the ground that he did not want to set a precedent. While there was no bar on offering namaz inside a church, Omar said his supporters might follow the precedent later and unwittingly create a rift with Christians.

Hardliners on the board counter the argument, pointing out that it was futile to expect the VHP to be sincere.

“There can be a peaceful resolution, but the two sides need to be sincere,” a board member said.

“It will be absolutely foolhardy to trust the VHP and Sangh parivar. Their agenda is not restricted to Ayodhya. How long can we go on compromising?” the member asked.

The moderates found it difficult to answer the question when it cropped up repeatedly at the March 10 meeting, where the board rejected the Sankaracharya’s formula.

Post March 15, the moderates are saying that the onus is now on the Prime Minister to rein in the “unreasonable lot” and show statesmanship in resolving the Ayodhya issue.


Bhubaneswar, March 17: 
A day after VHP and Bajrang Dal activists vandalised the Orissa Assembly, chief minister Naveen Patnaik promised exemplary punishment for the perpetrators.

Nineteen policemen who were in charge of the security of the House, including two deputy superintendents, have been suspended for negligence. More police heads were likely to roll in the aftermath of yesterday’s incident.

“I am deeply shocked. Certain actions have been taken and more are on the cards. We are examining everything,” Patnaik said on his return from Delhi.

The chief minister, who went around the Assembly premises with Biju Janata Dal legislators, said he would announce more actions against the guilty in the House tomorrow.

Patnaik went around the building inspecting the shattered windowpanes, smashed flower vases, broken glass doors, torn name plates and the broken mirrors in his toilet. The MLAs recounted the 25 minutes of horror to him.


Chandigarh, March 17: 
The government has constituted a 25-member police team to raid possible hideouts of the Punjab University vice-chancellor after failing to ensure his surrender to Patiala police in a case of alleged molestation.

The team led by Patiala range inspector general of police Anil Kaushik has been formed to track down vice-chancellor Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia, who has been charged with assaulting 22-year-old Saru Rana, a fine arts student of the university. He is also alleged to be behind a murderous attack on Harvinder Singh Bhatti, a reader in the sociology department of the university, earlier this month.

Embarrassed at not being able to arrest Ahluwalia, against whom arrest warrants have been issued, the Congress government led by Amarinder Singh proposed to write to Governor J.F.R. Jacob to withdraw all his powers. This follows reports that he is still managing the day-to-day affairs of the university despite being in hiding.

A government spokesman said a letter would be sent to the Governor next week, seeking not just withdrawal of powers but also his removal from the post. The government was also considering moves to vest all powers with the pro-vice-chancellor of the university.

The spokesman said the state was looking into all legal aspects before making any move. He denied any intelligence failure and iterated that Ahluwalia would be arrested soon.

Rana’s family is reportedly under pressure to withdraw the molestation complaint against Ahluwalia. The failure to arrest Ahluwalia and his continued statements to the media, especially on the running of the university or the forcible seizure of his official car from Chandigarh by Patiala senior superintendent of police Raram Raj Singh Umranangal on Thursday, “belies the government’s claim that he is untraceable”, family sources said. They feel that Ahluwalia is being protected by some members of the ruling party.

In another incident, Guru Nanak Dev University sports director Kanwaljit Singh has resigned after allegations of sexual harassment against him by Anita Tamrakar, a physical education lecturer.

In her complaint to the vice-chancellor, Tamrakar had alleged that Singh had asked her to accompany him on a journey where he would check the results of her research work.

Singh denies the charges. Tamrakar had been pressurising him to sign the summary of her thesis without verifying its authenticity, the sports director countered. “I have resigned because I am an honest academician. I have won an earlier case of sexual harassment but the university took no action against the complainant then,” he said.




Maximum: 35.9°C (+2)
Minimum: 24.0°C (+2)



Relative humidity

Max: 95%
Min: 22%

Sunrise: 5.47 am

Sunset: 5.42 pm


Partly cloudy sky. Maximum and minimum temperatures likely to be around 35°C and 23°C, respectively

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