Indo-Pak axis for nuclear bargain
Sinha sets off interest rate cut chain reaction
Delhi disdain at US ?crumbs?
Reckless drivers spill blood again
Why couldn?t we live like a team?

New Delhi, March 1 
India and Pakistan are to coordinate their responses to the United States on issues raised by Washington in its nuclear dialogue with New Delhi and Islamabad since last May?s nuclear tests, notwithstanding the tough weekend statements on Kashmir on both sides of the border.

This is one of the unpublicised results of the summit between the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers in Lahore last month.

At the same time, India has unilaterally decided to provide the US and several other countries advance notification in respect of ballistic missile flight tests.

Confirming this confidence- building initiative, official sources said New Delhi would not be averse to concluding bilateral agreements with key countries in this regard.

Indo-Pakistan coordination on dealing with the US, worked out between the official delegations which accompanied Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif to Lahore, will focus on the commonalities in their approach to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT).

Official sources pointed out that there was much in common between the Indian and Pakistani conditions for becoming signatories to CTBT.

The Indian stand, articulated by Vajpayee at the UN last year and reiterated down the line by ministers and officials, insists that New Delhi will become a party to CTBT in a ?positive atmosphere?. Pakistan, on the other hand, says it is willing to sign up provided there is ?no coercion? on Islamabad to do so. In effect, these mean the same.

There is also a lot in common in the way India and Pakistan view the FMCT negotiations due to commence in Geneva shortly.

Talks between disarmament officials of India and Pakistan in the run-up to the Lahore summit not only identified these common strands, but also explored the possibilities of harnessing such commonality of approach.

These sources reiterated that India had given no assurance to the US on signing the CTBT. On the contrary, they spelt out the minimum that the US is required to do before progress can be made on India?s accession to the treaty.

These minimum conditions are an end to restrictions on multilateral lending to India and a pruning of the entities list announced by the US last year.

Official sources said these steps could create a ?positive atmosphere? which the government is seeking in order not to stand in the way of CTBT?s entry into force as planned by the end of this year.

If the US administration were to take note of the need to turn public opinion in this country in favour of CTBT, then they would also contribute to creating a positive atmosphere in which India could accede to the treaty.

Official sources reiterated that India had no intention of wrecking the global non-proliferation regime, of which CTBT is a part, but expressed New Delhi?s inability to move forward on the treaty as long as public opinion in this country remained opposed to CTBT.    

Mumbai, March 1 
Picking up a signal from finance minister Yashwant Sinha, the Reserve Bank of India today lowered the cost of funds for banks and unlocked more cash, triggering cuts in prime lending rates by top commercial banks.

The RBI cut the cash reserve ratio (CRR) by half a percentage point to 10.5 per cent, which will add almost Rs 3,000 crore to banks? lendable resources from March 13.

The central bank also brought down the bank rate ? the interest it charges commercial banks ? by one percentage point to 8 per cent. The repo rate ? the rate at which the apex bank repurchases government securities from banks ? will also be lowered by 2 percentage points to 6 per cent.

The RBI?s measures came a few hours after Sinha said in Delhi that ?we have certainly created the right fiscal policy atmosphere? for a lower interest rate regime. ?I can only plead with the RBI governor as monetary decisions are not my domain,? he said.

The RBI did not disappoint him and rolled out the cuts, offering the recession-pallid industry a splash of colour on Holi-eve. Commercial banks, too, did not waste time in taking the apex bank?s cue.

State Bank of India and Bank of India cut the prime lending rate (PLR) by one percentage point to 12 per cent. PLR is the benchmark rate at which companies borrow from a bank. Deposit rates are also expected to come down.

Most businessmen and chambers applauded the cuts, but some felt they should have been steeper. Banking chiefs said the lower interest rates will help companies borrow more funds, giving a fillip to economic activity. Stock markets could also get a boost as a cut in rates often prompts investors to shift from debt to equity markets.

The markets scented an opportunity as soon as Sinha made his comment. Before the RBI announcement, the budget rally on the markets gained speed, helping the sensex close above 3,500 points.

RBI chief Bimal Jalan said the steps were taken ?in view of lower inflation, slow credit offtake and the next year?s lower borrowing programme announced by the government in the budget?.

Sinha had announced a lower market borrowing programme of Rs 57,461 crore for 1999-2000 as against Rs 64,911 crore (revised estimates) in 1998-99.

But governments usually break such promises and overshoot the self-prescribed limits. This could happen again, especially since the RBI has made government borrowing cheaper by reducing the repo rate.    

Washington, March 1 
More than $450,000 in US funds for training Indian military officers offered by the Clinton administration are about to lapse because New Delhi has failed to respond.

Official sources told The Telegraph the funds under the International Military Education and Training programme (IMET) will lapse in three weeks, robbing Indian army, air force and naval officers of free training in the most prestigious defence schools in the United States.

So far, New Delhi has not officially accepted the Clinton administration?s offer, leaving US officials worried about the fate of the money. Once the money lapses, it would be difficult to request funding in the state department?s budget next year, an official said.

A senior Indian official said he expected the matter to be ?resolved? soon. But at the same time, he said the Indian government was not overly worried about losing US funds. The reason for India?s recalcitrance on accepting the IMET funds is American failure to lay out future plans for defence co-operation on the table.

?We want to know what happens after the bonhomie. We have to understand the limitations of engagement,? he said. He was referring to the US sanctions imposed after the nuclear tests that banned all exports to the Indian defence ministry. Plans for joint military exercises were cast aside and all senior level contacts were stopped.

?We are not interested in picking up the crumbs. We need to know the total picture and properly evaluate it,? the Indian official said. ?You can start the car, fill it up with gas and go but if at the end of the road it says ?No Parking?, there is no point.?

The Indian side appears bruised by Washington?s approach of granting favours slowly without a reference to the end result. US officials, on the other hand, wonder about the Indian habit of kicking a gift horse in the mouth and losing $450,000 because New Delhi can?t have everything all at once.

Senior US officials requested the funding after President Bill Clinton removed some of the sanctions under the ?waiver authority? granted by the Congress last year. They believed the IMET programme would be a useful way to re-establish contact with Indian military officers. Plans included a course for the general commanding officer at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, considered one of the best in the country.

The reasons for India?s virtual refusal are mired in the long history of slights and injuries. The defence ministry?s ?all-or-nothing? approach to the question of restoring defence relations is likely to increase frustration in Washington, instead of making the Americans offer more, sources said.

Those who gain from the IMET funds are in favour of establishing contact with their US counterparts. But the stranglehold of the babus over those in uniform is supreme and in the past valuable interaction between the two sides was prevented with the stroke of a pen.    

Calcutta, March 1 
Rash drivers ran amok again in the city, crushing to death three labourers repairing tram tracks and a 72-year-old woman.

The workers were killed when a speeding Ambassador ploughed through the group. The police suspect it to be a case of drink driving. The woman was hit by a bus which was trying to overtake another.

The deaths occurred despite a high court order giving more powers to the police to crack down on reckless drivers. A social worker had gone to court after an alarming spurt in the number of fatal accidents in the city last month, mostly on account of rash driving.

The labourers, hired by Calcutta Municipal Corporation, were repairing tram tracks on the Ripon Street-AJC Bose Road crossing, near the Nonapukur Tram Depot, when they were hit by the car.

Around 3 am, an Ambassador approached from the Sealdah side at break-neck speed, its headlights blazing. Ignoring the red lamps on the road, it headed straight for the labourers, bunched on the tram tracks, and ran over them.

Anil Halder, Dulal Halder and Sonu Rajbangshi died on the spot. Manoj Das and Sibakanta Das were critically wounded and are in hospital.

?We are yet to find out how many people there were in the vehicle but we suspect that the driver was under the influence of liquor,?? joint commissioner of police, traffic, V.V. Thambi said.

The area was tense and a police picket had to be posted after residents protested against the incident. Senior officers were camping at the site.

Later in the day, the police seized a car which had dashed against a lamp post at the AJC Bose Road-Ballygunge Circular Road crossing. The driver is yet to be traced.

?We suspect the seized vehicle is the one which claimed the three lives. Officers are verifying documents to track down the owner,?? Thambi said.

In the second incident, Asoka Bose was run over by a private bus on route 204 as she was crossing the road in front of Brahmo Girls? High School this afternoon.

The driver was trying to overtake another bus on the crowded APC Road when he hit the 72-year-old woman.

Bose, a resident of Vidyasagar Street in central Calcutta, was taken to hospital where she was declared dead. Traffic on APC Road was held up for some time.

In the evening, Phatik Halder, 40, was hit by a car on the Camac Street-Theatre Road crossing.

Police said Halder was on the pavement when the driver lost control and knocked him down. He was taken to Sambhunath Pandit Hospital and discharged after first-aid. The driver escaped.

In the past year, 450 people have died in accidents in the city.    

It was a great honour for me to be among the eminent persons accompanying our Prime Minister to Lahore and it turned out to be an experience I will never forget. It was the first time that I travelled on a trip like this and each person was a stalwart in his own field. Film artistes, poets, dancers, intellectuals and businessmen, we were all part of this historic journey. This is one bus ticket I will preserve to show my grandchildren. All I can say is that the trip had vision. Whether or not it is a complete success is not the point. The issue is that the effort on both sides is to be appreciated.

It was the first time that I have driven into Pakistan. What a feeling one gets at Wagah, when suddenly from the Indian tricolour and our soldiers, you see the Pakistani flag flying in the wind and the sentries and guards saluting you are so different and yet the same.

It was the first time that I saw Pakistan as an Indian, as an individual, as my forefathers would have seen it. On previous visits, I was merely a cricketer who thought of nothing but the game.

We did a lot of sightseeing and visited the Dera Sahib Gurdwara and Maharaja Ranjit Singh?s samadhi before going to a fabulous banquet hosted by the honourable Nawaz Sharif at the Shahi Qila. It all seemed so unreal to see what was part of our ancestors? home and what is so alien to us. And to add to the mystique and magic in the air, was the presence of Javed Akhtar who translated every visual into a beautiful poem. The banquet, a seven-course sit-down dinner was a sumptuous Mughlai meal of paya, chicken, kababs and a large variety of rotis. The ambience took me to the Mughal era, as we were seated in the majestic lawns of the fort all beautifully lit up. To add to the flavour of the evening both Prime Ministers conversed in shairi.

In the middle of all this, a thought struck me. Why couldn?t we live with all our neighbours ? Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar ? like a well-knit team? If all of us benefited from each other?s surplus produce and opened up trade we would be a force to reckon with. Our aim should be to strengthen our economies with joint hands and forget about Kashmir for the moment.

Why carp about a land issue when we have so much to gain from each other in a positive manner? In the city, wherever we went we were welcomed with so much warmth and affection. A Pakistani individual has so much love to offer. Yet, sometimes, why do we feel a sense of hostility from the crowd?

Yes, there was a section of people who were not happy (they tried an Eden Gardens on us, but the efficient security ensured that nothing went awry, except for a minor delay in the day?s events!). But my point is that this happens all over, and when the majority is with you, go for it.

All through the trip, I felt we were one land and our parents were the generation that felt the love and hate. They left their homes, friends and even families to move on and bore deep scars which were visible to us. We have heard innumerable stories of the Partition from them and have formed opinions and biases over matters and incidents which we have not witnessed. Let?s resolve now, not to pass them on to our children. The scars will lighten until we barely notice them.

A line from Shri Vajpayee?s speech touched the core of my heart, when he said: ?Zakhm bhar gayen hain/par nishan nahin jayenge.? We were one land, now we are two. Let?s accept that and get on with it.    


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