De-escalation flag flutters
Writers’ bomb plot ticks in public
Spy plane jitters & titters
Grab-govt game plan rolls
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, June 8: 
By next week, India will announce some non-military and military steps towards de-escalating the tension with Pakistan.

This would be in recognition of the “pledge” given by President Pervez Musharraf to end infiltration permanently and underwritten by the US, according to highly-placed government sources.

This was also confirmed by US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. He, however, claimed that India was considering returning some of its diplomats to Islamabad and making some military gestures to lessen tensions. “That would be going too far,” said an official source.

Although Delhi is unlikely to announce is first move immediately, some of the immediate responses being considered by India include the de-alerting of its troops from a six-hour readiness to 48 hours and restoring overflights. Later, Delhi might send the nomination of the next Indian high commissioner to Islamabad as Vijay Nambiar, the last Indian envoy, has now been appointed to the UN in New York.

Musharraf’s move to end infiltration “permanently” was welcomed by India when US secretary of state Colin Powell called external affairs minister Jaswant Singh today. Singh described it as “a step forward in the right direction” and reiterated the Prime Minister’s statement that India would respond “appropriately and positively”. Powell spoke to Musharraf, too.

Singh also made it clear that “an irreversible end to infiltration” required the dismantling of the infrastructure of support for it in Pakistan as well as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Delhi believes that US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, expected to arrive next week, should be able to convey India’s positive response to Islamabad, where he is scheduled to go from here. This would allow Rumsfeld to put further pressure on Pakistan to take the next series of steps to dismantle the infrastructure supporting infiltration.

The Indian response would be commensurate with the developments on the ground. Between May 27, when Musharraf announced his intention to end terrorism from Pakistani soil, and June 7, there have been no infiltration attempts across the LoC, according to official sources. However, India is monitoring the situation closely.

There is a recognition in the government that it would be difficult to satisfy international opinion with its positive response and, whatever it might do, there may still be demands for further concessions. The dilemma of sequencing the responses was summed up by an official: “You must not give too little too late and you can’t give too much too soon.”

What is clear though is that restoring diplomatic links at the level of high commissioners may take up to three months and that military de-escalation would follow a diplomatic thaw. “The military cannot be deployed and re-deployed like a yo-yo,” a government source said.


Calcutta, June 8: 
Terrorists are planning to strike Writers’ Buildings between June 10 and 15, a Central intelligence report has informed the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government.

Going public with the intelligence, the state government today threw a huge security shield around Writers’ Buildings and intensified the watch on vital establishments and installations.

“We received the alert from the Centre late last night and put into motion all efforts to track these agents down,” said state home secretary A.K. Deb at Writers’, where he reviewed the security measures with senior officers.

The Central report said several batches of terrorists, who have entered the city fringes, would try to ignite an explosion in the BBD Bag area.

Following leads that two batches of terrorists are staying in a Beniapukur house, a city police team raided the place today. Simultaneous raids were also carried out in Colootola Street, Chitpur Road and Metiabruz through the day. Several persons have been rounded up for questioning.

The Central alert follows the arrest of three Pakistanis two weeks ago by the state IB, which has been pursuing reports that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence had made inroads in and around the city.

IB director R.C. Sharma, who has been monitoring the interrogation of the trio, left for Delhi today to brief the Central intelligence agencies. “We are trying to find out whether the arrival of these three men had anything to do with the possible Writers’ Buildings strike warning,” said an official.

Home secretary Deb told a news conference during the day that the government has taken “enough steps to ensure that these operatives cannot penetrate our security cover. Even if they do, we can match them gun for gun”.

With memories of the strike outside the American Center on January 22 still raw, the government, minutes after receiving the information, put the police in Calcutta and the rest of Bengal on full alert.

The police also threw a larger ring around the BBD Bag area. More policemen in mufti and mobile patrol units were pressed into the inner and outer rings.

The Assembly — now in session — the Governor’s house, foreign missions, railway and Metro stations, Calcutta and Bagdogra airports, important bridges and highways were buttoned up during the day. “We are on the highest alert,” said city police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty.


New Delhi, June 8: 
An unmanned spy plane of the Indian Air Force was shot down in Pakistan last night but Delhi asserted that it does not signal an escalation of conflict.

The aircraft, an Israel-manufactured Searcher Mark II, had taken off from an airfield in Jammu and was brought down in a ball of fire by Pakistan Air Force combat aircraft some 14 miles inside Pakistan.

In Islamabad, the detection of the spy plane and its interception was projected as an illustration of how alert the Pakistani air defence system is. In Delhi, there are titters in air force circles because the aircraft had nearly reached Lahore.

Pakistan military said in a statement the unmanned Indian aircraft was shot down around 11 pm on Friday and crashed near Raja Jang, south of Lahore.

The Pakistan foreign ministry summoned an Indian diplomat to convey its “deep concern and strong protest on the deliberate violation of airspace”.

Outgoing foreign minister Abdul Sattar struck a note of restraint, saying “in a situation like this”, responsible states must be careful not to provoke an escalation in tension.

But Pakistan’s military establishment toed a more strident line. “Pakistan’s determination to defend every inch of its land and airspace has been proved by (the) downing of India’s spy plane. We hope that India learns a lesson,” Pakistan’s military spokesman Major General Rashid Qureshi said.

In Delhi, the defence ministry said in a statement: “One UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) lost contact around 2300 hours on June 7 and is believed to have fallen down within 20 km south-south west of Lahore.” It also described the use of UAVs as a “routine feature” given the current state of deployment.

Military experts say the increasing use of UAVs is not surprising. UAVs are considered low-value assets and the cost of one crashing is less than the loss of a reconnaissance plane and its trained pilot. UAVs are fitted with sensors to either take photographic images or to detect enemy radio signals.

Pakistan has about seven different types of UAVs, mostly of Chinese make. India relies mainly on the Israeli-made Searcher. It has also been test-flying the indigenously-built Nishant in actual conditions. But the Nishant cannot fly as high as the Searcher.

Defence sources said that in recent months, India has also bought a “substantial number” of UAVs, which are used by all three forces.

Both India and Pakistan are negotiating with western firms to buy airborne early warning systems that will allow faster detection of airspace transgressions.

In January, when the deployment under Operation Parakram was nearly complete, a Pakistani UAV — a Chinese-made BS-10 — was shot down over Poonch. Shortly before that, an Indian UAV — another Searcher II — was reported to have crashlanded within Indian territory, but Pakistani gunners claimed they had shot it.


New Delhi, June 8: 
The BJP antenna went up when Sonia Gandhi addressed the Confederation of Indian Industry last month.

The Congress chief had hammered home the point before the captains of business that her party controlled more than half the number of Indian states — 14, to be precise — and, by implication, was the only one that could provide “good, stable” governance.

With as many as 10 states set for elections next year, including important ones like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, BJP strategists reportedly concluded it was time for a comprehensive assessment of the scenario. .

Informal discussions within the party yielded one major point: somehow, the myth of the Congress and stability going hand in hand had to be busted before people voted again. And any strategy must be guided by this objective.

“If we got an opportunity to show that their governments were as vulnerable as any other, their legislators were also up for grabs and had no deep commitment to the party, the Congress’ claim would be shattered,” said a BJP Cabinet minister.

Maharashtra was the opportunity the party was looking for. Not only was it a prized state for the BJP and its ally, the Shiv Sena, the downfall of the Vilasrao Deshmukh government would kill two birds with one stone.

“It would deprive the Congress of a major base in the west and a cash-rich state at that. More important, it would belie its boast of running a coalition government successfully,” the minister said.

The Congress is proud of the fact that despite the mutual antipathy between Sonia and Sharad Pawar, it had managed to cobble together a government with the Nationalist Congress Party for the “sake of secularism”.

BJP strategists are waiting with bated breath to see if Deshmukh can hold his own flock and that of the NCP together before June 13, when he faces a trial of strength in the Assembly. If he fails, they are confident the BJP-Sena would make a serious bid for power and capture it.

With Goa in its kitty and Maharashtra a possible acquisition, BJP sources claim that there is a “good” chance of retaining Gujarat. “The Congress’ plank in Gujarat is going to be good governance. But if they lose a government in Maharashtra, this will be rendered hollow,” the sources said. Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Uttaranchal are the other Congress-ruled states the BJP has lined up on its predatory list.

A section of the party feels that former Rajasthan chief minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat should not be considered for the Vice-President’s post.

“His services may be much more valuable in Jaipur as and when the Gehlot government is rocked,” said a BJP functionary.

BJP sources also feel that Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi, who had spirited away one-third of their legislators some months ago with the promise of ministerships, may be hoisted on his own petard.

“He has a lot of problems from within. Jogi has not been accepted by the Shukla brothers (V.C. and S.C. Shukla), who are influential. Therefore, he had to engineer defections from the BJP,” the sources added.

Working on the premise that defectors are “notoriously unreliable”, the BJP is confident of luring away not only its erstwhile legislators but even some from the Congress once the “iron is hot”. In its quest for “stability”, the BJP has decided not to change the chief ministers of Gujarat and Jharkhand.




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