Putin push on Pak fugitives
Dud dossier in Hurriyat case
Elders elbow out the elected
Great Eastern has a suitor
Quit cloud dogs Kalraj in Delhi
Border silent, hinterland bleeds
Gujjars caught in crossfire
Kant option puts Naidu in a spot
Calcutta Weather

Washington, June 16: 
The Russians and the Americans have informally agreed on specific subjects to be taken up by their leaders with India and Pakistan in the pursuit of long-term peace in South Asia following the success of international efforts last week in de-escalating the region�s military crisis.

President Vladimir Putin has told reporters in his home town of St. Petersburg that General Pervez Musharraf �is prepared to consider the possibility of extraditing international terrorists who are not citizens of Pakistan and who are committing crimes on the territory of India�.

In a remark pregnant with implications as the world waits for New Delhi and Islamabad to travel further on the road to reconciliation, Putin said this was �one important signal which President Musharraf gave� during the meeting of the two leaders in Almaty.

As a political insurance to cover his offer to the Russian President, the Pakistani strongman added two provisos to his offer. First, they should be arrested on Pakistani territory. Second, their guilt should be proven.

But Putin said the significance of the offer is that �I think this is a manifestation of goodwill and I hope that these signals will also be heard� in New Delhi.

Putin�s revelation fits in with what Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said at his press conference in Almaty.

Referring to Musharraf�s strident assertion in the Kazakh capital that no one would be handed over to India, Vajpayee had significantly reacted that this was not what he had heard from Putin on the issue.

It is clear from the course of intense and coordinated interaction between Russia and the US, on the one hand, and among the major world powers on South Asia that Russia will pursue issues with political overtones such as the extradition with New Delhi and Islamabad in the months ahead.

The US, on the other hand, will concentrate on the military aspects of the India-Pakistan standoff, such as infiltration, monitoring of the LoC and so on.

This was obvious when Putin told reporters in his home town that �we remain in contact (on South Asia) with our partners in Europe and in North America�.

Putin revealed that �we are engaged in a continual dialogue with Pakistan and with the leadership of India... I invited President Musharraf to visit Moscow, we are now arranging the date of his visit. This year I have an official visit to New Delhi. In both cases, an issue on the agenda of the talks will certainly be the situation between India and Pakistan.�

This is an arrangement which suits Moscow and Washington. Since much of the information regarding the wanted criminals and terrorists were given to India by US intelligence, and Pakistan knows it, the Americans feel they are politically handicapped in following up the issue any further with Islamabad.

In any case, Washington feels it is better equipped to deal with the military aspects of the India-Pakistan crisis. That was partly the reason why defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld was chosen by President George W. Bush to travel to the sub-continent instead of either secretary of state Colin Powell or national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

What the Americans have not admitted in public is that this strategy serves the larger US strategic vision for South and Central Asia.

After having been bitten badly from the terrorist fallout from the region, Washington wants to take out a long term insurance against similar pitfalls in future. This entails building military contacts and a presence in the region, a plan which has so far gone well, sources said here.

Military contacts with Pakistan are now firmly re-established and Washington�s defence relationship with New Delhi is on the upswing. The Pentagon is now trying to build a credit of �I-owe-yous� with the two defence establishments.

By sharing their India-Pakistan agenda and exploring their respective strengths and weaknesses in New Delhi and Islamabad, both the US and Russia hope to advance their interests in South Asia even as they bring results, which Putin and Bush hope will be permanent in the region.


New Delhi, June 16: 
The arrest of journalist Iftikhar Geelani on a flimsy charge is likely to prove a major embarrassment for the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government when Kashmir is increasingly coming under the international spotlight.

Iftikhar is married to the daughter of hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who was arrested up by Kashmir police on June 9 for allegedly receiving funds from Pakistan�s ISI through a contact in London.

Though the charges against Geelani are said to be serious, the same cannot be said about those against his son-in-law.

Iftikhar, bureau chief of Kashmir Times in New Delhi, was arrested under the Official Secrets Act for possessing information in his computer detailing the deployment of Indian troops in Kashmir as far back as 1993. The document was released by the Pakistan foreign office in 1995 and is available to anyone who wants a copy.

The Act is generally applied for possessing material or documents that can threaten the security of the state. However, Geelani�s lawyer V.K. Ohri said: �A document giving details of troops in Kashmir, not today but in 1993, can hardly be put in that category.�

A search of Iftikhar�s New Delhi residence was conducted simultaneously with the raids on his father-in-law�s house in Srinagar.

A special unit of Delhi police, along with income-tax officials, came to Iftikhar�s house on June 9. They scanned the papers relating to the purchase of the property. �Every document was made available to the income-tax officials and they could not fault him on the purchase of his house,� said Ohri.

However, Delhi police went ahead and arrested Iftikhar under the Act and seized his computer. Iftikhar�s lawyers said the police should have verified the evidence before arresting him.

A Delhi court has asked the police to prove by Tuesday how the material found in Geelani�s computer could be �prejudicial to the Government of India�.

Iftikhar�s lawyers have not asked for his release on bail. Instead, they have asked the court to quash the �trumped-up� charges against him.

Iftikhar�s wife Aanisa denied the allegations, allegedly circulated by overzealous Delhi police officials, about her husband having links with the ISI. Asked to comment on her father�s arrest, she said: �My father�s politics is different from my husband�s.� She refused to be drawn into any discussion on her father, saying she would speak only for her husband.

While Geelani�s arrest has not sent too many ripples outside Kashmir, Iftikhar�s detention has been noted worldwide by journalist and human rights groups. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has written to the home minister. Reporters sans Frontieres have also taken up the case.


New Delhi, June 16: 
The high drama that marked the run-up to the presidential polls has winched the curtains up on an unusual sub-plot that is being played out away from the public glare.

The storyline of that phantom play: the country is increasingly being run by those from the Rajya Sabha, not by the direct representatives of the people.

The rise of the new power elite is not a trend that covers just the ruling BJP. The Opposition Congress, too, has allowed itself to be guided by Upper House members � �elders� in parliamentary parlance. If Pramod Mahajan, Venkaiah Naidu, Arun Jaitley, Arun Shourie and Jaswant Singh are holding sway in the BJP, Manmohan Singh, Natwar Singh, Arjun Singh, Pranab Mukherjee and Ambika Soni are doing so in the Congress.

But their march has come under the glare now with sceptics pointing fingers at some of them over the presidential race, in which neither the Congress nor the BJP covered themselves in glory.

Dissent within the BJP surfaced once a group of powerful leaders insisted on nominating P.C. Alexander as the NDA candidate for President but had to turn tail after the Telugu Desam and the Opposition objected. The Congress, which floated K.R. Narayanan�s name without confirming whether it could carry the rest of the Opposition along, backed out once that didn�t happen. The party then seemed unwilling to back A.P.J. Abdul Kalam but finally bowed to the NDA�s choice.

Sources in the BJP and the Congress blamed the group of Rajya Sabha MPs encircling the top brass for creating what they termed was a �needless� controversy.

BJP sources said Mahajan, Arun Jaitley and Naidu tried to cajole the leaders to have their �own man� � if they were in a position to do so � in Rashtrapati Bhavan. In the Congress, Manmohan and Natwar reportedly shared the Left�s belief that Narayanan would pip the NDA candidate to the post.

�Increasingly, it looks as though the Upper House members have the last say in policy matters and strategy. They have worked their way to positions of importance in the Cabinet and decision-making bodies and pose as though they are the eyes and ears of the bosses,� said a BJP Lok Sabha member.

Jaitley, Mahajan and Naidu, said sources, were the key players in the drama that unfolded when Modi � escorted from Ahmedabad by the law minister � took the members by surprise, saying he would resign. The Gujarat chief minister insisted on a spot verdict and then had the trio pitching for him.

With the clique tightening its grip, the BJP�s �pro-people� image was getting dented, said the sources. �These are people who have fought one or two elections or none. They are not aware of the people�s pulse. Look at the disinvestment issue. The way the government is going about it may please sections of industry, but it will cost us politically in the next election,� said a Lok Sabha member from west Uttar Pradesh.

He pointed out that barring Mahajan, who was sent to the Upper House from his home state, Maharashtra, the others had to turn to their �friends and proteges� in other places to get themselves elected. The Delhi-based Jaitley has been sent from Gujarat and Naidu, who belongs to Andhra Pradesh, has to thank Karnataka. �This is a reflection of their grassroots base or the lack of it,� the MP remarked.

The situation is the same in the Congress. The party�s apex decision-making body, the Congress Working Committee and the Political Affairs Committee, are dominated by Upper House MPs like Pranab Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh, Arjun Singh, Ahmed Patel and Ambika Soni and non-members like Mohsina Kidwai and Mukul Wasnik.

The lack of a perceptional synch between the Congress� Upper and Lower House members was evident during discussions on Ayodhya and the Prevention of Terrorism Act in Parliament.

While the Rajya Sabha strategists formulated a motion that was immediately accepted by the ruling coalition, those in the Lok Sabha took a more hard-hitting stand. During the Ayodhya stand-off, too, political observers believe the Rajya Sabha leaders showed a willingness to make peace with the government time and again.

The Congress holds that the vacuum created by Madhavrao Scindia�s death was not filled and, therefore, Sonia Gandhi had to fall back on the Rajya Sabha �wisemen�.


New Delhi, June 16: 
Other people collect paintings, fountain pens or bric-a-brac. Lalit Suri, chairman and managing director of Bharat Hotels, collects hotels. He is ready to bid for the historic Great Eastern Hotel in Calcutta, if the West Bengal government is ready to sell it.

Suri also collects Ganeshas and European art deco furniture. A Daum crystal car turned upside down serves as a holder for pens and markers. A portrait of Rajiv Gandhi by Sanjay Bhattacharya and beautifully executed caricatures of Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and others prominently displayed at the entrance area of his office make it clear which side of the political divide he is on.

But hotels are his big passion. This is not to say that he is not professional about his acquisitions.

�I want to build up a big chain of hotels very soon. It will be a mix of business hotels, tourist resorts and heritage hotels,� says Suri. From his current holding of 1,600 rooms in six hotels, he wants to expand to 2,200 to 2,500 rooms in a couple of years.

Suri says: �I�ll be the first to bid, if West Bengal government makes up its mind on disinvestment.�

This from a man who has already acquired two ITDC hotel properties in Bangalore and Udaipur and plans to acquire two more when the next tranche opens. He will next bid for ITDC Kanishka in Delhi and the ITDC Hotel Manali.

The Kovalam hotel, for which Suri had also bid, went to someone else.

In October this year, two Inter-Continental hotels, the deluxe brand in his chain, will spread out the red carpet. The one in Mumbai near Sahar Airport will be called Grand Inter-Continental, Mumbai. Architect Raja Aederi designed this 400-room hotel while Christian Le Pare, an Egypt-based French firm, did its interiors.

The Grand Inter-Continental Resort in Goa was built by the French architecture firm, Olivier Vidal Associates, while Delhi-based Sarabjeet Singh did the furnishing.

There are four Inter-Continental hotels in his bouquet at the moment � Delhi, Mumbai, Goa and Srinagar. Other new acquisitions will carry his signature, Grand. The Bangalore property will be called the Grand Ashoka and the Udaipur property will be known as the Grand Laxmi Vilas.

These hotels will be refurbished by Rajendra Nath Associates. Rajendra Nath has been known for his work on many ITC Welcome Group hotels, including the Maurya Sheraton in Delhi and the Windsor Manor in Bangalore. Suri has not made up his mind on who will do the interiors for his heritage property in Udaipur, but he is determined he will make the two repositioned hotels operational by next year.

Suri admits this has not been a good year for the hospitality industry. Last year, his turnover was Rs 50 crore. But if everything works out right, he would like to become a Rs 350-crore chain. The Gujarat riots have had an impact on the hospitality business, he admits, but hopes that the tide will turn soon.


New Delhi, June 16: 
Uttar Pradesh BJP president Kalraj Mishra met Atal Bihari Vajpayee today, triggering speculation that a decision would be taken soon on his resignation offer.

Mishra put in his papers on June 3 after owning up �moral� responsibility for the BJP�s debacle in the Assembly polls, but party president K. Jana Krishnamurthi has not accepted it yet.

After his 40-minute meeting with Vajpayee, Mishra told reporters that his resignation was not discussed.

�It was a routine meeting, I always call on the Prime Minister when I am in Delhi. We spoke on general matters,� he said.

When asked him if the resignation issue cropped up, Mishra said: �The Prime Minister has got nothing to do with it. It is for the party president to decide and he is not in Delhi right now.�

The leadership has still not been able to make up its mind for two reasons. One, if Mishra�s resignation was accepted, it might provoke a clamour in Delhi, Punjab and Uttaranchal, where the BJP was defeated in recent elections, for the head of the state presidents. The BJP would like to put off a party revamp in the states till the organisational elections slated for March-April 2003 and allow the functionaries to bide their time.

Second, it had not yet found a suitable successor to Mishra. Ayodhya MP Vinay Katiyar was regarded as a front-runner because he symbolised Hindutva and Mandal in his persona like Kalyan Singh. Katiyar is a backward caste Kurmi and was one of the spearheads of the temple agitation as the founder-president of Bajrang Dal.

The name of another veteran Uttar Pradesh leader, Rajendra Gupta, was also doing the rounds.

Sources close to Katiyar said he had not yet been sounded by the central leaders though he was reportedly keen on the job.

Mulayam summoned

A city court has issued summons to Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and warrants against five persons, including two former Samajwadi Party legislators, for allegedly roughing up then BSP vice-president Mayavati in 1995.

Chief judicial magistrate Santosh Kumar Vishwakaram issued bailable warrants against them and fixed August 2 for further hearing.


Srinagar, June 16: 
The roar of cannons died down on the border but the chatter of guns reverberated in Jammu and Kashmir as more than 18 persons, including five Hindu villagers, fell to bullets since last night.

The spurt in violence need not mean Pakistan is breaking its promise to stop infiltration as it could have been engineered by militants who have already set up base in the state before the border standoff began.

But if such events recur with regularity, it will be difficult for the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government to pursue its de-escalation package and convince the domestic audience that it has succeeded in turning Pervez Musharraf around.

Militants barged into Hindu homes and killed five villagers while three rebels were shot and eight jawans and policemen received injuries in separate incidents in the state.

On the border, there seemed to an easing in the daily exchange of artillery, mortar and bullets. Defence minister George Fernandes emphasised that there was no �perceptible� tension along the Line of Control despite Indian and Pakistani troops remaining eyeball-to-eyeball.

In Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, too, officials said the situation was calm. �Except for some sporadic incidents of machinegun fire in Hajira town of Rawalakot, no exchange of fire was reported from any of the remaining districts that border with Indian-controlled Kashmir,� he said.

But militants stepped up violence in the state, descending on Bhader village near Mahore in Udhampur late last night and opening fire on members of the minority community. Five Hindus, including a woman and two girls, were killed and four others were injured. Troops were rushed to the village this morning when news of the massacre reached the district headquarters.

Early this month, militants had killed 10 persons, including five members of the village defence committee, in Mahore. Security had been beefed up in the area.

Three militants were killed at Gauherpora village in central Budgam district this afternoon when the rebels, holed up in a house, opened fire on the BSF personnel who encircled it. The troops engaged the militants and finally destroyed the house.

Police said three Hizb-ul Mujahideen activists and two civilians died in the encounter. Four soldiers received bullet injuries.

Four policemen and two officials were injured when militants targeted Special Operations Group and BSF personnel during a raid on Wasura village in southern Pulwama district.

Security was beefed up at Kanthwara in Kishtwar as communal tension flared after back-to-back killings of three Hindu children and three Muslim villagers. Militants attacked Hindu pilgrims yesterday at Kanthwara with grenades and guns, killing two children. One wounded child succumbed to his injuries later.

Late last night, three Muslim villagers � a village defence committee member, a special police officer and a government employee � were killed in the area, triggering tension. Senior police and civil officials have rushed to the spot.


Poonch, June 16: 
They are the nowhere people. Caught between the devil and the deep sea in Jammu and Kashmir, they are perhaps the worst victims of terrorism in the Valley.

A tribe that has survived for centuries fighting the vagaries of nature, the Gujjars today are caught in a whirlwind crossfire in the treacherous terrain of the Pir Panjal ranges, spread along the Line of Control in the two sensitive border districts of Poonch and Rajouri.

Forming the third-largest majority in the state, the nomadic Gujjars follow their traditional occupation of raising cattle, goat and sheep. In pursuit of their livelihood, they traverse long distances over snow-clad mountain areas in search of greener pastures.

However as many as 67 Gujjars, including 25 women, have been killed by terrorists infiltrating into India in 29 separate incidents during the past six months. And many have had their limbs pulled out before being shot.

All in the name of jihad.

The fear unleashed by terrorists in the remote areas of these twin districts has cast a long shadow on the faces of the nomadic Gujjars.

The traumatic experiences of having witnessed tribe members being mercilessly killed and the pressure mounted by security forces to provide information on the whereabouts of terrorists have affected the Gujjars� way of life.

Many now prefer shifting to towns in search of other means to sustain their lives. The fear of massacres by Afghan mercenaries, �the most brutal of the mujahids�, also weighs heavily on their minds.

�Our staying back in the hills of Jammu have been threatened by militant massacres of our community members who have been facing the terrorists� wrath for not taking the path of militancy,� said Shamsher Hakla Poonchi, Congress leader and a senior member of the All-India Gujjar Parishad.

�The infiltration still continues despite the deployment of the army,� he added.

Referring to the difficult situation the community finds itself in, Asif Golan, whom this correspondent met at Mohra Bichayee, said the Gujjars were not anti-India as is commonly believed.

�Apart from the terrorists, the army, too, does not spare us. We are constantly suspected of providing food and shelter to terrorists coming from Pakistan. The army suspects us, the militants suspect us. We have nowhere to go,� he said, looking pensively towards the mountain ranges separating India and Pakistan.

�Mujahid bahut tang karte hain. Ghar mein daal hoti hai to gosht maangte hain. Gosht hota hai to daal mangte hain. Hum kya kar sakte hain. Rifle sar par lagakar khana maangte hain, rehna ki jagah maangte hain. Chale jaane ke baad mein police aati hai aur humko maarti hai (The terrorists trouble us a lot. If we provide them with pulses they ask for meat and if we provide them with meat they demand pulses. What can we do? They put a rifle on our heads and demand food and shelter. The police come after they leave and punishes us),� Golan said.

The latest massacre of Gujjars was witnessed a couple of months ago in Mora Bichayee, a village located on the Hari Budda hills of Surankote tehsil in Poonch.

In retaliation to the killings of Saif-ud-din, a top Harkat-ul-Jehadi-Islamia district commander in Poonch, and Abdullah Bhai, the self-styled area commander of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen by the army, terrorists belonging to the Lashkar-e-Toiba butchered five Gujjars, including four women, as a warning to the locals.

Dubbing Mohammad Zaman Gujjar as an army informer, Lashkar activists hacked to pieces his wife and three daughters besides a kin in the village. A week earlier, terrorists had shot three Gujjars in Hari Budda on the same pretext.

The killings resulted in over 100 Gujjars fleeing the village to the safety of migrant camps in Poonch (Haveli). They refuse to go back to their village, fearing that they would meet the same fate. More and more members of the community are now flocking towns in the region to save themselves from the wrath of terrorists as well as the security forces.

�Terrorists have looted hundreds of cattle from us, even heavy wooden clothes when we camp in the upper reaches of the mountains. Often, our daughters and wives are kidnapped and raped,� Noor Din Gujjar (name changed to protect identity), now living in Surankote, said.

While security forces rule the hills during daytime, militants call the shots at night. That is the unwritten rule in the mountains of Jammu and Kashmir, he added.

The Gujjars are constantly moving, shifting from one mountain range to another, and camping in places where there is plenty of grass for cattle, sheep and goats to survive.

The winter season halts their movements and they descend to low-lying areas. Once spring comes, they again begin their trek to the mountains.

During winter, the Gujjars live in mudhouses called kothas, located on the hill slopes and mostly next to streams.

But, with militancy intensifying in the higher reaches of the Jammu region, the Gujjars now shun travelling to the upper reaches of the Pir Panjal ranges and are slowly migrating to the mountainous areas of Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal.


New Delhi, June 16: 
The Congress move to get a second term for Krishan Kant as Vice-President has put Telugu Desam Party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu in a spot. Naidu, during his meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee last week, had assured him that he would not object to any candidate put up by the NDA.

Naidu had earlier tried to install Kant in Rashtrapati Bhavan but had to backtrack following stiff resistance from the BJP. Then to nix the BJP bid to bring in Maharashtra Governor P.C. Alexander as the President, Naidu teamed up with the Congress and the Samajwadi Party, much to the consternation of NDA managers.

Sources said, having edged Alexander out, the Desam chief backed the candidature of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, and as a placatory gesture, told the Prime Minister that he would not oppose the NDA candidate for Vice-President.

Sources said Kant had earlier refused to contest for Vice-President for a second time on the assumption that the NDA would install Alexander, who has been his junior, as the next President. Kant is understood to have asked Naidu over the phone how could he work under a man who used to receive him at the Mumbai airport.

The Congress, in its bid to prevent a hardcore RSS ideologue from occupying the post of Vice-President, has now changed its strategy and decided to back Kant for a second term. Kant should have no problem working under Kalam and Congress emissaries have asked him to seek Naidu�s support.

The BJP camp is floating the names of former Rajasthan chief minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, senior BJP vice president Sangh Priya Gautam, Vishnu Kant Shastri, Bhai Mahavir (both from the RSS stable) and Viren Shah (Governors of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal, respectively).

Senior BJP leader M. Venkaiah Naidu told reporters in Bangalore yesterday that the Opposition would be consulted over the Vice-President�s post, but the NDA had to keep in mind the fact that the Vice-President would also preside over the Rajya Sabha.

�We will select a good candidate,� Venkaiah Naidu said.




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