Bangla evens score with bomb powder haul
Jaya treats Sonia to Atal?s agony
New corps for Sino-Pak surprise stretch
Delhi drive to parade Clinton on Republic Day
Calcutta weather

Aug. 22: 
A week after India blew the lid off a cross-border haul of explosives, Bangladesh today announced the seizure of 300 kg of sulphur, an ingredient in bombs, and claimed that the consignment was sent from India.

Bangladesh Rifles impounded the huge stock of the yellow chemical ? the largest such yield in recent years ? at Benapole, a town near the country?s border with West Bengal, on Friday, officials said in Dhaka.

Stunning Dhaka and raising eyebrows in diplomatic circles, Assam chief minister Prafulla Mahanta had last week disclosed the joint raid by a police team from Assam and Bengal on ISI bases inside Bangladesh.

Mahanta, in course of his Independence Day speech, had said the raiding party had found 30 kg of RDX and other explosives during the operation in Bangladesh. Hot on the heels of Mahanta?s announcement, explosives were found from three places, including Sealdah, in West Bengal, sparking speculation that they were part of the haul from across the border.

Bangladesh?s discomfiture at the Indian raid was overshadowed by the uproar over the conflicting claims of Assam and West Bengal and their spat on each other?s right to retain the explosives.

Indian officials, who vigorously denied any link to the chemical consignment, were today quick to suggest that the ?sulphur sting? was meant to be a ?kind of talk-back? by Dhaka.

Experts in the Bangladesh capital said sulphur is usually used in medicines and industrial activities. However, they pointed out that mixed with another chemical, it could be used to make iron-pellet bombs, preferred by subversives.

Bangladesh border guards seized the sulphur packed in six polythene bags from a wooden furniture shop at the frontier village of Ashra near Benapole.

Bazlur Rahman, the owner of the furniture shop, has been absconding since the raid. The sulphur has been sent to Dhaka for further laboratory tests, police sources said.

Even though Bangladesh legally imports sulphur from India, a large quantity of the chemical also enters the country through smugglers. Crude bombs are widely used in Bangladesh during political protests and robberies.

Indian officials said any hint from Bangladesh that the sulphur was smuggled from this side of the border was ?ridiculous?.

?We are on a red alert in view of the ISI and RDX threats. All trucks going to Bangladesh are checked on the border by the Border Security Force and customs officials.

?Their numbers are recorded on either side of the border. Smuggling 300 kg of sulphur is simply not possible,? an official said.

Earlier, Bangladesh had denied knowledge of the joint raid by the Indian police team and insisted that it does not harbour Pakistan-trained terrorists.

But Dhaka was worried that against the backdrop of growing ISI presence and blast threats in eastern India, the raid had shown it in poor light before the international audience.

Senior police officers and bureaucrats in Bengal said that by highlighting the notion that the seized sulphur was smuggled from India for manufacturing bombs, Dhaka possibly wanted to prove that India, too, was not above reproach.

Besides, caught in the middle of an Opposition-sponsored anti-India movement against a trans-shipment policy, the Sheikh Hasina government is under domestic pressure to return cross-border potshots .    

Villipuram, Aug. 22: 
Jayalalitha today did to Sonia Gandhi what she used to do to one-time ally Atal Behari Vajpayee.

In a resounding snub to the Congress president, the ADMK chief boycotted a public meeting, billed as a unique joint rally of the two parties, at Villipuram, 170 km from Chennai.

Wrapping up a rally in Trichy, Sonia arrived here around 4.45 pm, along with son Rahul. After an agonising wait of over 45 minutes, Sonia received word from the imperious lady from Poes Garden that she would not be able to make it to the meeting.

As thousands of supporters of both parties waited patiently in the scorching sun, an ADMK official calmly took the dais and announced that amma was busy addressing meetings in Chennai. She was lost ?in a sea of humanity?, he said, and would not be able to catch up with ?Madam Sonia Gandhi?. But Jayalalitha had very generously suggested that Sonia go ahead with her speech.

Sonia ascended the dais a few minutes later, but did not betray any emotion. She looked satisfied with the cheers she received from the crowd.

She referred to ?doctor? Jayalalitha again and again in her speech, praised her secular concerns and explained how her southern ally had felt stabbed in the back by the BJP?s machinations.

But Sonia?s speech was uninspiring. On several occasions, the crowd had to strain to hear what she was saying.

What was hotly debated at the end of the day was not what Sonia said or what she did not, but why Jayalalitha had hurled such a gratuitous insult at her.

Most felt Jayalalitha?s behaviour was consistent with her unpredictability and her inability to forgive or forget.

After the Vajpayee government collapsed, Jayalalitha had been desperate to clinch an alliance with the Congress, but Sonia took a long time to make up her mind.

Despite repeated pleas, the Congress chief did not give Jayalalitha an appointment. What amma did today is being seen as a kind of riposte to the humiliation heaped on her by 10 Janpath.

Besides, with opinion polls predicting a debacle for the Congress, Jayalalitha may have decided to drive home the lesson that it is Sonia who is dependent on her, not the other way round.

Some people claim that the ADMK leader may have been angered by reports of an interview in which Manmohan Singh was quoted as saying that no one, not even Jayalalitha or Laloo Prasad Yadav, could escape the law if they were found guilty.

At the end of the lacklustre rally, Congressmen looked worried. One party activist said: ?Her gesture is sure to send wrong signals to the electorate, but then she is built that way. She cannot rein in her temper, she cannot react in any other way, even though at the back of her mind she might know that such actions could damage her own cause... and we have very few options in this state.?    

New Delhi, Aug. 22: 
The army has decided to create and deploy a fresh corps in the Leh-Ladakh region, which it believes may become the target of future Pakistani and Chinese military surprises.

Top army sources said the modalities for raising a new corps ? approximately 50,000 soldiers ? are already in place. However, the army fears that the drive to recruit junior-level officers may take some time. Of a total sanctioned strength of 44,000 officers at all levels, the army has a shortfall of about 11,000 for posts of lieutenants, captains and majors.

Once the new corps takes up position in Leh-Ladakh, it will be given the responsibility of guarding the frontiers stretching from Siachen in the north to eastern Ladakh ? bordering the sensitive Aksai Chin area ? to the Turtuk-Chorbatla sub-sector in the south.

The new corps will be deployed alongside the 15th and 16th corps of the army?s Northern Command, which have already been positioned along the 740-km stretch of the Line of Control (LoC). Immediate attention, though, is being paid to a 140 km-stretch of the LoC with increased patrolling activities and efforts to plug the pre-Kargil gaps. As a result, there will now be an entire army (three corps make an army) in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The new deployment will considerably increase the presence of security forces in Leh-Ladakh. The concentration of forces in Ladakh will rise sharply since about 3,000 personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police are deployed in forward areas on the Sino-Indian border. The force has its battalion headquarters in Leh. Besides, there is the Ladakh Scouts, which played a commendable role during the Kargil conflict and is likely to be inducted into the army soon.

The army headquarters has reluctantly agreed to provide ?some units? for counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir. A senior Union home ministry official said the army has promised to release some units from the 15th and 16th corps for counter-insurgency duties before and during the polls to plug the ?the counter-insurgency grid?.

An official said this grid had been weakened because the Rashtriya Rifles and other Central paramilitary forces were ?not following a pro-active policy? towards the militants. The matter was discussed between senior home ministry officials and members of the Unified Headquarters at Srinagar on Wednesday.

Army sources said the new corps ? in addition to the 15th and 16th corps ? would be trained for mountain warfare and be adequately armed with fresh-from-the-production line, highly successful 5.56 mm rifles, otherwise called the Indian Soldiers? Small Arms Systems. These rifles were used in the Kargil conflict on a limited scale.

Most of the purchase demands placed by the army ? after it was caught off-guard by the better equipped intruders ? are being met. The army has received 50,000 pairs of snow boots procured from Italy and Austria for troops in Kargil and its sub-sectors. A huge quantity of parkas has also been acquired from Europe. Several thermal imaging systems have arrived from Israel.

The army has had to fall back on Ukraine ? though it was blacklisted for military purchases ? for weapon locating radar. Army sources said Ukraine had to be approached because France does not supply military hardware to non-Nato countries, unless in exceptional circumstances.    

New Delhi, Aug. 22: 
India is trying to bring President Bill Clinton as the chief guest of Republic Day celebrations next year. If the plan materialises, Clinton will be the first US President to be present on the occasion.

Clinton will also be the first US President to visit India in 22 years. Only two of his predecessors have visited India so far. Dwight Eisenhower was the first to come here in December 1958. Jimmy Carter followed him after two decades in January 1978.

The dates of Clinton?s visit, however, have not been finalised. Washington has indicated that the President will tour South Asia and probably visit India, Pakistan and Bangladesh early next year. The South Block officially said the visit is likely to take place in early February, but in private they admitted that a move is on to bring him here as the chief guest on Republic Day.

?Though nothing has been finalised, we will be happy if he can be here as the chief guest for the January 26 celebrations,? a senior foreign ministry official said.

The decision to invite heads of states for the Republic Day celebrations is symbolic. It gives the chance to show appreciation for a particular country. When France was keen to do business with India and identified it as one of the key world players, Delhi promptly invited President Jacques Chirac as the chief guest on Republic Day.

If Clinton comes here for the January 26 show, it will indicate the growing closeness between India and the US. It will also give Delhi the opportunity to showcase its achievements in various fields, including military might and its emergence as a nuclear power. This year, at the Republic Day parade, the government had displayed the Agni missile. Agni II, which has the capability to hit cities like Beijing, could be on display in next year?s celebrations.

But whenever the Clinton visit takes place, both countries will have to cover a lot of ground diplomatically. The US sanctions imposed on India and Pakistan following their nuclear tests will have to be lifted if Clinton is serious about his visit to the region.

Though Washington is not linking the two issues, India will also have to send positive signals on signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). India has already indicated that after the elections, a fresh attempt will be made to build a broad consensus so that it is in a position to sign the treaty before the US President?s trip.

The US has taken the lead in criticising India for the release of its draft nuclear doctrine as it apprehends this will trigger an arms race in South Asia. This is likely to be an area of discussion between foreign minister Jaswant Singh and US secretary of state Madeleine Albright in New York next month.

Singh is scheduled to meet her and other senior US officials on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Indian officials here claim that much of the US criticism is aimed at assuring its own constituencies, like the peaceniks, that it would not allow Delhi to go ahead with its nuclear programme.

Both countries are now discussing the numbers India will require to maintain its minimum nuclear deterrence policy.

The present reaction from Washington on the draft nuclear doctrine, therefore, should be seen in its proper perspective.    

Today?s forecast:Light rain may occur in some parts.

Temperature: Maximum 32.5?C (1?C above normal)
Minimum 27.5?C (1?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 92%
Minimum 70%

Rainfall: 0.3 mm

Sunset: 6.01 pm
Sunrise: 5.18am

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