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Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee wrote to Russian President Boris Yeltsin, conveying his ?deep sense of shock and sorrow? at the tragic deaths caused by recent explosions in apartment blocks outside Moscow. Sending his ?sincerest condolences? to the affected families, he said in his letter that ?at this difficult hour? India shared with the Russian people their ?deepest concern?.
If Vajpayee?s letter was more symbolic in nature, foreign minister Jaswant Singh?s message to his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov minced no words in describing the Dagestan situation as a clear manifestation of ?international terrorism and extremism?.
Singh said India, which had been a ?victim? of international terrorism, could not but express ?full solidarity? with Russia.
?We condemn any acts which destabilise states and the established order therein,? his letter said.
In a clear hint at the Pakistan-Taliban links and their support to international militant groups, Singh said: ?Terrorism needs to be combated decisively. There is today a growing body of evidence in regard to the origin of these terrorists, their sources of financial and other support and camps in which they have been trained.
?Such information would assist the international community in dealing with this scourge.?
Singh will get a chance to meet Ivanov at the Conference on Interactions and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) which begins tomorrow at Almaty in Kazakhstan. Foreign ministers of 14 Asian nations and representatives from observer nations will participate at the meet which will discuss the Talibanisation of Central Asia and the Afghan militia?s export of terrorism.
The letters written by the Indian leaders to Kremlin are part of New Delhi?s pro-active policy on Afghanistan to corner the Taliban and its main backer, Pakistan.
Two foreign ministry officials have recently visited Washington to discuss the Afghan issue and international terrorism with the Americans.
Indian foreign secretary K. Raghunath will leave for Moscow on Thursday to hold similar talks with the Russians.
India has cancelled flight operations to and from India by the Afghan airlines, Ariana, to match US sanctions against the Taliban.
The next step is to build up a strong move with like-minded nations to isolate the Taliban and thus expose the links Pakistan has with it and other terrorist outfits engaged in destabilising governments.
Russia might move a resolution at the UN General Assembly beginning in New York tomorrow, calling for sanctions on Afghanistan. It may lead either the General Assembly or the UN Security Council to call for cancellation of flights to Kabul and denial of visas to Taliban officials.
The CICA meet is especially significance in view of the Afghan developments and their effect on Central Asia and other neighbouring countries.
At a meet at Osh in Kyrgyzstan last month, four Central Asian nations passed a resolution expressing deep concern at the Taliban?s support to Islamic fundamentalist groups in the region. The resolution called for combating them.
A similar stand may be taken at the CICA meet. If it happens, it will be a major embarrassment for Pakistan, which is one of the participants. It may also be an indicator of things to come at the United Nations session.
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The turnaround came after prolonged diplomatic wrangling between the sides, and included a warning to Pakistan that it must, in future, adhere to all military customs, bilateral arrangements and international norms.
By insisting that it will return the soldiers only through the Red Cross, Pakistan has been trying to get even with India.
Delhi had taken a similarly difficult stand a few weeks ago, agreeing to return eight Pakistani soldiers through the Red Cross only after each of them was individually identified.
The foreign office said it was aware today?s decision would not go down well with the people. ?We decided to accept Pakistan?s condition, keeping in mind the human element,? it said.
The soldiers, Ram Singh and Bajender Singh, were members of a six-man team patrolling the Turtuk sub-sector in Jammu and Kashmir, and were captured by Pakistani forces on August 29. The whereabouts of the other four soldiers, including a captain, are not known.
Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said: ?The Indian director-general of military operations has been in touch with his Pakistan counterpart on the whereabouts of the soldiers. But so far there is no confirmation from Pakistan that the soldiers are in its custody.?
India?s reluctance to involve the Red Cross is to avoid having to label its soldiers prisoners of war. ?We are not in a situation of conflict. So the fastest way for Pakistan to hand over the soldiers was to get in touch with India at the DGMO level,? Jassal said.
The spokesman argued that the Red Cross had to be involved during the Indian handover as the Pakistani soldiers were captured during the war in Kargil.
India claims the two soldiers ?inadvertently strayed? into Pakistani territory and there is no reason either to term them PoWs or involve the Red Cross.
Accusing Pakistan of taking an ?intransigent? stand and ignoring international norms and bilateral agreements, Jassal said Delhi had decided to take back the soldiers on Pakistan?s terms keeping in mind the ?anguish of their families?.
But he clarified that the soldiers were not being taken back as prisoners of war.
Asked how he would describe India?s relations with Pakistan, Jassal said: ?We have state-to-state relations with them.?
Asked if Indo-Pak ties were similar to Delhi?s relations with other countries, Jassal said: ?On our part, we are trying to improve our relations with Pakistan and make it cordial.?
Despite the foreign ministry?s claims, the incident indicates that Delhi and Islamabad are still busy scoring diplomatic points against each other.
Both countries have so far paid little heed to the human element, making the soldiers pawns in their game of diplomatic brinkmanship.
Besides, if India was indeed as concerned about the families of its soldiers as it has claimed, it should not have taken so long to involve the Red Cross.
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State higher education minister Satya Sadhan Chakraborty said an exodus of students from the private colleges had forced the government to consult the fifth admission list prepared on the basis of this year?s Joint Entrance Examinations.
Senior education officials said poor infrastructure at the dozen-odd private institutions, set up over the past two years, was at the root of the exodus of students from the state.
?Students and their parents are not adequately aware of the existence of new institutions. So, many of them decide on going away even before the publication of the JEE results. We have to make sure next year they know about it,? Chakraborty said.
The government, however, had no explanation on why students were leaving even after getting admission. ?We are flummoxed by this trend ,? an official said.
The ruling Left Front encouraged the setting up of private engineering institutions as part of a carefully designed programme aimed at keeping bright students in the state. It is estimated that a few thousand engineering students leave for Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and other states every year.
One of the common complaints against the private institutions is their hefty fees, though they lack enough laboratories, libraries and workshops. Some of them are extremely small and operate out of hired, cramped premises. Often, students are forced to sit under trees due to shortage of classrooms.
?If our institutions continue to lose young talent to other states, Bengal can never hope to create a pool of qualified and skilled manpower,? an official said.
Two months after the announcement of the JEE results, the government today held the fifth counselling session for placement of students in the new private colleges, which have 200 vacant seats.
The first list of 4,000 students, who had qualified in the JEE for admission to the 23 engineering colleges in the state, was announced by the state government in July. It held the first counselling for placement of the successful candidates on July 29.
The first counselling continued for a fortnight and nearly 1,600 seats in the 11 state government-aided institutions were filled in the very first session.
?When we found that students in the first list were not turning up we decided to organise four more counsellings. Yet we have not been able to fill up all the seats,? another official said.
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Sooner, rather than later.
All three were suspended by the Pakistan Cricket Board?s (PCB?s) ad-hoc body, in July, and remained the subject of Justice Qayyum?s high-profile probe.
The clean chit-process actually began early last month ?reported by The Telegraph on August 8 ? and formally ended today, at least in Akram?s case, who has been reinstated as captain.
Akram, therefore, will lead Pakistan in the limited overs? series vs the West Indies in Toronto, beginning Thursday. Moin Khan, named captain last week, should be ?demoted? to the vice-captaincy.
According to well-placed sources, even if the Ata-ur Rehmans hadn?t withdrawn their allegations ? chiefly against Akram ? Justice Qayyum, of the Lahore High Court, would still have exonerated the champion allrounder.
And that because sections within the Sharif government, if not the Prime Minister himself, feared just the suspensions alone ? without hearing the players? side of the story ? could be made into a thorny political football.
The nailing of the trio by a government-appointed inquiry would only have aggravated matters.
It?s significant that Benazir Bhutto and Imran Khan, among others, had been extremely critical and slammed the Sharif government for ?ruining? a sport which enjoys unprecedented following.
Whatever the other considerations Justice Qayyum, one learns, was also strongly influenced by Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim?s report into the Malik affair (1995), which cleared him and six others of any wrongdoing.
The six others included Akram and Ijaz. Significantly, the Justice Ebrahim inquiry, into charges by Shane Warne and Co., was initiated by the then PCB chief executive, Arif Ali Khan Abbasi. Abbasi, who has a pro-players? image, is still immensely influential.
While Akram obviously is over the moon, the PCB?s ad-hoc body has egg on its face. Clearly, it has many questions to answer.
For one, how could it bow to an Ehtesab (Accountability) Bureau directive to suspend Akram, Malik and Ijaz even before allegations had been proved?
Then, how could it give so much weightage to an internal PCB inquiry, conducted last year by Justice Ejaz Yousuf, who indicted the trio without giving them an opportunity to defend themselves?
Unbelievably, the ad-hoc body wasn?t even aware that the PCB had itself disowned that one-sided (interim) report, by Justice Yousuf.
Perhaps getting ?wind? of what was to unfold, the Ehtesab Bureau only recently did a U-turn and exonerated Akram and the rest of the team of any wrongdoing during the World Cup final (vs Australia).
Till then, it had been gunning for the players.
The PCB?s ad-hoc body, though, continued to blow more hot than cold and, today, will find it difficult to hide face.
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Both teams had already ensured promotion to group A for next season.
FCI escape relegation
In Super Division, FCI wriggled out of relegation threat by clinching the sixth position with a 1-0 win over Eastern Railway today. It left them with eight points from four matches as the first phase of the relegation leg drew to a close. Aryan Club lost their chance to reach the shores of safety when they were held to a goalless draw today by Calcutta Port Trust. They had six points to show. Eastern Railway finished with four points and BNR two.
The four teams will now pair off for a double-leg encounter that will decided the two teams that move down to first division.
In fifth division championship play-off matches, Nivedita tamed Jadavpore Agragami 4-3, Excelsiors drubbed Union Sporting 3-0 while the match between Shyambazar Club and Milan Chakra fell through.
Nagaland Police thrashed 2nd ASRF 3-0 today to enter the final of the ATPA Shield football tournament in Jorhat. According to information reaching here, Vizakie Renthango scored all three goals. Drawing first blood in the 29th minute, he went on to score again in the 38th and the 51st minutes. The policemen meet Oil India in the final on Wednesday.
Anirban in final
India No. 2 Anirban Nandy stormed into the boys? singles final at the Green Top table tennis championships today with a fluent win over Subhajit Patra. He meets Amit Das, who struggled past Sourav Pradhan.
RESULTS: Boys? singles semis: Anirban Nandy bt Subhajit Patra 21-17, 21-11, 21-15. Amit Das bt Sourav Pradhan 21-10, 21-23, 21-18, 19-21, 21-10. Girls? singles semis: Mousumi Pal bt Nabanita Bose 21-9, 21-9, 21-16; Rita Dasgupta bt Agamani Mitra 21-15, 19-21, 21-18, 21-18.
Arch-rivals Eastern and South Eastern Railway set up a clash for the title at the Paddapukur Young Men?s Association waterpolo tournament with contrasting victories today. South Eastern sailed past Calcutta Sports Association 14-6, while Eastern had to overcome a stubborn Central Swimming Club (12-10).
The top four seeds sealed semi-final berths at the 11th junior state billiards championship at the Hindustan Club today. Top seed Mudit Poddar got the highest break of the tournament (41) while on his way to a 439-197 win over Devraj Gorsia. In the semis, he meets Harsh Keyal, who edged past Brijesh Damani 312-299 after trailing for almost the entire match.
RESULTS (quarters): Mudit Poddar bt Devraj Gorsia 439-197; Harsh Keyal bt Brijesh Damani 312-299; Md Akram Khan bt Saurav Kothari 349-299; Mayur Agarwal bt Abdul Mannan 281-205.
Puneet Dayal, who has represented North and then Central Zone at junior levels, is making a mark for Ambergate in the Derbyshire League in England. According to information reaching here from New Delhi, Dayal was again among runs and wickets in the season which concluded recently.
Dayal, who joined the club in 1996 as a replacement for Derek Randall, has also completed a Level I coaching course with the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB).
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