Pak offers talks on UN sidelines
Strike rerun on army camp
Assam police net ISI agents
Atal sings stability tune for alliance vote
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Aug. 8 
Desperate to wrest back some of the diplomatic initiative it had lost to India over the Kargil conflict, Pakistan today mooted a meeting between the two countries on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, scheduled to start from September 14.

But New Delhi rejected the proposal, making it clear that no amount of pressure could force it to return to the negotiating table and bilateral talks could only resume if Islamabad created an environment of peace.

Both India and Pakistan are scheduled to address the General Assembly on September 22. The proposed meeting, therefore, could be held when leaders from both countries are in New York.

?We feel the dialogue process need not be held hostage by the election campaign in India,? Pakistani high commissioner in Delhi Ashraf Jehangir Kazi told news agencies this afternoon.

But Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, while launching the BJP?s election campaign here, charged Pakistan with whipping up fresh tensions in Kashmir.

?Hamare seene pe bandook rakh kar koi hamen baat karne par majboor nahin kar sakta (Nobody can force us to return to the talks table by putting a gun to our head),? Vajpayee thundered.

The tough stand notwithstanding, indications are that New Delhi will play the issue by the ear. Vajpayee?s comments, though in conformity with India?s stated position, are essentially aimed at the electorate.

The proposed meeting, if it does take place, will be at the end of September, which means that by then the Lok Sabha elections will be half-way through and the Opposition can hardly turn resumption of talks into an electoral issue.

Traditionally, international leaders take the opportunity to meet each other on the sidelines of the General Assembly. India and Pakistan, too, have had similar bilateral meetings.

This year, however, the situation is different. If the proposed talks come through, the two sides will be meeting each other at an international forum for the first time since the Kargil conflict. Though Pakistan is keen on a dialogue, India is not.

Indications are that Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will deliver his country?s speech at the General Assembly. But his Indian counterpart, who will be busy campaigning for the polls, is unlikely to visit New York. Instead, foreign minister Jaswant Singh may represent India at the General Assembly.

But at this point, Pakistan is not bothered about protocol. It is desperate to resume the stalled dialogue.

New Delhi, however, appears to be in no such hurry. Its reluctance is mainly with the domestic audience in mind. With the Lok Sabha elections round the corner, the ruling BJP-led coalition is not prepared to provide the Opposition with an electoral plank by showing its eagerness to hold talks with Islamabad.

Officially, India maintains that Pakistan will have to re-affirm its respect for the sanctity of the Line of Control (LoC) and take concrete steps to show it will not encourage cross-border terrorism in Kashmir and other parts of the country.

However, Pakistan has shown no signs of accepting either of the two conditions. Instead, going by the sudden spurt of militant activities in Kashmir, Islamabad appears to be trying to bring back the global focus on the trouble-torn state and thus create enough pressure on New Delhi to force it to return to the dialogue process.

But the Indian leadership does not seem ready to oblige, dimming the prospect of a dialogue in the near future.

However, a lot will depend on the response of the international community. If the key world players, who were so far content with the Indian argument that talks cannot be held before the Lok Sabha elections, start nudging New Delhi to show some progress towards dialogue, then a meeting between Sharif and Singh may take place in New York.    

Srinagar, Aug. 8 
In the third fatal strike on the army within 72 hours, militants targeted another military camp in Kupwara last night, killing a jawan and wounding six.

The militants fired a barrage of rockets on the 68 Mountain Brigade camp at Trehgam, near the LoC, around 10 pm, severely damaging the barracks, an official spokesman said here today.

The militants withdrew after a battle with machine guns. The area was sealed off after daybreak as troops hunted for the assailants in the forested mountainous area about 10 km from the LoC.

In a massive combing operation today, two militants were killed in Kalaroos forests, the spokesman said. Arms and ammunition were recovered from them, he said, but the militants have not been identified.

Early on Friday, militants had raided a camp of 3 Rashtriya Rifles in Kupwara and killed a major and six soldiers. Yesterday, militants ambushed an army vehicle and shot dead Colonel Balbir Singh and two jawans in Kayeegam village.

The pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for the attacks on Friday and Saturday.

At least 500 infilitrators, armed with sophisticated weapons, have crossed into India since mid-May and positioned themselves close to the LoC. After the Kargil conflict, Kupwara has become the epicentre of violence in Kashmir.

In the central Kashmir district of Budgam, militants attacked a police station with rockets last night. Though the building suffered slight damage, no loss of life was reported.

Militants also attacked a police camp at Surankot in Poonch and a police post at Chowdhrynar in Rajouri last night. The police retaliated but the militants escaped. A policeman was injured in the attack at Surankot.

In Pune, home minister L.K. Advani said Pakistan has started reviving a proxy war in India after the debacle in Kargil.

The home minister claimed several ISI modules have been identified in the country. These modules had a ?network of contacts with other nations?, he said.

The ISI modules were meant to undertake a series of activities to terrorise India and create instability, Advani said. He, however, refused to elaborate where these modules had been unearthed.

The minister said he had held a high-level meeting with the police and the army to counter the designs of the ISI.    

Guwahati, Aug. 8 
The Guwahati police last night arrested two ISI ?officers? and two top Harkat-ul-Mujahideen militants active in the state.

One of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen activists, Qari Salim Ahmed from Uttar Pradesh, is the ?chief recruiting agent for the ISI in India?, chief minister Prafulla Mahanta told reporters today. The militants were in Assam to coordinate with the Ulfa, he said.

?We allowed them to move about freely for more than 48 hours, but kept a watch on their activities minute-by-minute. Finally sure of their identities, we arrested them yesterday,? Mahanta said.

The two ISI ?officers? were identified as Md Fasih Ullah Hussaini and Md Javed Wakhar from Hyderabad-Sindh and Karachi.

The other Harkat-ul-Mujahideen functionary was identified as Maulana Hafiz Md Akhram Mallick, a resident of Mukam Shahwali in Kashmir. All of them had entered Assam ?illegally? from Bangladesh through Karimgunj district of the Barak valley.

In a follow-up operation, the police swooped down on 27 other members of various pro-Pakistan outfits. Besides the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, members of outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Harkat-ul-Jehad were also held, the chief minister said.

During the follow-up, the police held the Assam-based ?chief organiser of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen in India?, Maulana Md Fakaruddin. Fakaruddin is ?second-in-command? in the outfit, after its Pakistan-based chief Afzalur Rahman Khalilee, inspector-general of police (special branch) N. Ramachandran said.

Asked how the police decided Hussaini and Wakhar were ISI officers, director-general of state police P.V. Sumant said: ?They confessed during interrogation.? The police also showed video clippings of the grilling to back their claim.

Sumant said the arrested militants were carrying identity cards of a government agency in Pakistan, though the cards did not mention the ISI. ?We don?t expect an ISI functionary to carry an identity card saying he belongs to the ISI,? he added.

Inspector-general (operations) G.M. Srivastava claimed when the police were trailing the suspects, they intercepted phone calls made by the ISI officers from Guwahati and ?taped? the conversations. ?The tapes clearly indicated their involvement with the ISI.?

Commending the ?major breakthrough?, Mahanta said the two ISI officers and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen activists had been deputed by the Pakistani agency to carry out ?specific anti-India operations ?.

The task assigned to them was ?to make use of the Ulfa and other local outfits for creating largescale disturbance in Assam, including bomb blasts in public places, railway stations, railway tracks, market places and oil installations. Besides, they were also to carry out serial blasts on the Manali-Leh Highway to cut off army supply lines,? Mahanta said.

The police said the militants were expecting a consignment of explosives, which got diverted to an unknown destination. The police believe the militants were tipped off, and have decided to put some lower-level officers under scrutiny.    

New Delhi, Aug. 8 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today called upon voters to give the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) a decisive mandate in the September elections and make sure the next government completes its full tenure.

Kicking off the BJP?s election campaign in Delhi at a packed Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, Vajpayee did not sound apprehensive about heading a coalition government again.

?Why should parties or pre-poll alliances not be able to secure a majority? But this is possible only when voters have a national outlook and do not get caught up in petty, local considerations,? he said.

Vajpayee tried to play down the instability underlying a multi-party government. ?We have successfully demonstrated that we can manage coalition politics. Once the ADMK quit our coalition, the government functioned smoothly. In hindsight, it may be said we ought not to have allied with Jayalalitha. But if we hadn?t, we could not have formed our government in the first place.

?We were fully aware that we did not have a majority (after the 1998 polls). We even told the President that if another party or block of parties was willing to have a shot at government formation, it should be allowed to do so. But no one came forward, and somebody has to form the government. So we accepted the challenge,? he claimed.

Vajpayee warned against the ?dangers? of frequent elections, and stressed the need to cushion the government against them. ?The Lok Sabha?s term is five years, but in the past 10 years, we have had five elections. This has to stop. Political instability hampers development and adversely affects national security. The law and order situation can also get out of hand. Besides, elections are a costly affair and cost the state exchequer over Rs 1,000 crore.?

The Prime Minister also warned that a fractured verdict could cause the country to disintegrate.

?For the sake of power, our national polity is getting splintered into little pieces. We are the world?s largest democracy in terms of sheer numbers. In the past 50 years, we have also preserved a democratic polity. But there are some aspects of the system which make me anxious. Defections should be banned and party-hoppers should be stripped of their official position and privileges,? he said.

The Prime Minister hinted at the need to review the Constitution to do away with mid-term polls. ?Some countries have a system by which an incumbent government cannot be toppled unless an alternative one is already in place. In other countries, even if a government has been reduced to a minority, it is allowed to continue its full term. It is time we reflect on such proposals.?

Though Vajpayee?s speech dwelt a lot on the stability factor, it was the mention of Kargil that enthused the crowds. The Prime Minister, hailed as a ?war hero?, stressed the credit for the ?victory? should go the nation and its soldiers. But he added: ?Kargil is proof that if the leadership gives the right direction to the country, a crisis can be transformed into a victory.

Dwelling on his government?s diplomatic ?successes?, he said: ?After the Pokhran blasts, we became isolated in the international community. We took the step in the interest of national security. But today, no one talks about the blasts, no one criticises them.?

Though he was silent on Congress chief Sonia Gandhi?s ?foreign? antecedents, Vajpayee attacked her for her unsuccessful foray into government-making in April after he lost the trust vote.

?If our government was overthrown and another one put in place, I could understand. All the while it (the Congress) claimed it would be a constructive Opposition, it was in fact itching to rule. It ridiculed coalition politics, but when power was in sight, it teamed up with other parties to topple our government. It had no scruples, no agenda.

?The Congress was in such a hurry to form the government that Sonia Gandhi made wrong claims of support before the President. Whether she made a mistake while counting or she was in a tearing hurry, I don?t know. But the incident diminished the credibility of Indian democracy,? Vajpayee said.

Other speakers in the rally also attacked the Congress chief. BJP president Kushabhau Thakre declared that the election was getting polarised into a mandate for a leader who ?ruled the country for 13 months and took it forward by leaps and bounds? and another who was ?inexperienced and power hungry?. ?Do you want Vajpayee or a total novice as the Prime Minister?? Thakre asked.

The BJP?s South Delhi candidate V.K. Malhotra claimed Sonia Gandhi had still not mastered a single Indian language and her idea of Indian history began with ?Jawaharlal Nehru and ended with herself?.

A slogan displayed prominently at the rally referred to her assertion that the BJP was not aware of the ?stuff? she was made of. It read: ?BJP hee nahin, saara desh jaanta hai ki, aap Italy kee hawa, paani aur mitti kee bani hui hai.?    

Today?s forecast: One or two spells of rain

Temperature: Maximum 31.6?C (Normal)
Minimum 25.7?C (Normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 98%
Minimum 70%

Rainfall: 19.4mm

Sunset: 6.11 pm
Sunrise: 5.13 am

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