Sharif sugar wagons steamroll Atal claim
Ballot scam-busters lose case, win EC hearing
Delhi on toes to foil LoC march
Pak claws back to UN podium

New Delhi, Sept. 22 
When Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told the nation that ??not a grain of sugar?? was imported from Pakistan during the Kargil conflict, he was speaking only half the truth.

While no sugar came by sea during the undeclared war, it continued to enter Amritsar on goods trains through the Attari border.

The army officially admitted the infiltration on May 19, but 1,218 wagonloads of sugar ?amounting to 34,078 tonnes ? was imported that month. Defence minister George Fernandes has also said that the incursions began in May.

Even in June, a month after the conflict erupted, India bought nine wagons of sugar from Pakistan. A large chunk of it came from four mills ? Ramzan Sugar Mills, Chaudhry Mills, Ramzan Bros and Fatima Mills ? companies, which, top sources said, were either controlled by or had links with the family of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

During the first half of this year, sugar from Pakistan was imported both by sea and land. Between February and June, 5,390 railway wagons of sugar ? totalling around 1.44 lakh tonnes ? entered India.

Also, three shiploads, or 20,000 tonnes, of Pakistani sugar came in between January and April. The consignments landed at Calcutta Port and were imported by Prime Impex, a leading trading house. At least one of the three consignments was sent by the Pakistani firm, Gloland, and it came aboard the cargo vessel, Ivan Zagubanski.

With electioneering reaching fever-pitch amid a no-holds-barred campaign launched by both the BJP and the Congress, sugar imports from Pakistan during the border war has been used by the Opposition to return the ruling alliance?s Kargil fire.

The Congress has pounced on the alleged deal with the Sharif government and said the Vajpayee administration, by buying sugar from a country which was ??butchering Indian soldiers??, was guilty of ??treacherous?? conduct.

The party said some exporters in Pakistan had links with its army and part of the proceeds from the sugar deal was used to finance the Kargil incursion.

Vajpayee and his colleagues have brushed aside allegations of links with the enemy. At an election rally in Aligarh on September 16, the Prime Minister emphatically denied that his government had colluded with Pakistan. ??Not a grain of sugar was imported during the Kargil crisis,?? he had said.

India has long been importing sugar from Pakistan, primarily because the country sells it at rates cheaper than other sugar- producing nations.

Indian mills have been at a disadvantage because of the price difference with Pakistan and the government?s tilt towards its neighbour has often attracted their ire.

Prodded on by the sugar lobby, Union food minister Surjit Singh Barnala had proposed in mid-May, around the time the Kargil conflict began, that duty on imported sugar be hiked from 27.5 per cent to 40 per cent.

But fearing an embarrassing pre-election price spiral similar to the onion disaster last year, the Vajpayee Cabinet vetoed the proposal, and seemingly turned a Nelson?s eye to sugar imports from the enemy.

The finance ministry had led the opposition to Barnala?s plan, pointing out that with elections a few months away, any huge hike in import duty could be misused by unscrupulous local traders to jack up sugar prices, putting the government in trouble.

The Centre was against taking chances, especially after last year?s lessons. An abnormal rise in onion prices led to the BJP?s defeat in four states.    

Patna, Sept. 22 
Patna High Court today directed the Election Commission to hear out the petitioners who had alleged electoral malpractice in Bihar, even as the Intelligence Bureau confirmed it had not submitted any report to the defence ministry on poll irregularities.

The commission has scheduled a hearing at 3 pm tomorrow for the Samata Party, a constituent of the Janata Dal (United) which had filed the plea urging the court to probe the alleged malpractice.

However, the court dismissed the Janata Dal (U) petition without passing any stricture on the commission. This is being seen as an endorsement of the poll panel?s stand. The commission was under attack from the Samata Party and the BJP for its remarks against defence minister George Fernandes.

In a hard-hitting statement on Monday, the commission accused Fernandes of trying to disturb the poll process in Bihar by making false allegations about electoral malpractice. In particular, the commission objected to Fernandes? claim that he had been informed about the irregularities by the director of the Intelligence Bureau.

Its stand was vindicated today when the Intelligence Bureau filed an affidavit in court asserting it had not submitted any report to the defence ministry on poll malpractice. While disposing of the Dal (U) petition, the court directed the commission to take stringent action against ?officers found to be negligent?.

The commission filed an affidavit spelling out the action it had already taken against erring officers. The poll panel has also deputed three additional observers to Bihar, one each for Patna, Barh and Nawada. The commission today denied that there was any scope for the printing of excess ballot papers, as alleged by the Samata Party.

?The truck which arrived at Nalanda carrying ballot papers from Saraswati Press in Calcutta was examined properly by the commission office. There was no tampering with the ballot papers,? secretary to the commission K.J. Rao said.

To dispel any suspicion about the ballot boxes, the commission has directed polling officers to use only boxes with metal stickers. The panel said it was not possible to tamper with either the ballot papers or the boxes.

The bodies of an engineer on poll duty, who was abducted from a booth in Palamu on September 18, and a returning officer, Suredh Kumar Deo, missing since the day of polling, were found today. Rao said in view of the resentment among officers over the two deaths, a decision on repolling in four districts was put on hold.

The commission would like to make full security arrangements for the officers before deciding on the repoll in four districts, including Palamu and Hazaribagh.    

New Delhi, Sept. 22 
Concerned over the Pakistan-based Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front?s threat to cross the LoC, India today warned its neighbour that any such move will be dealt with firmly and Islamabad would be held responsible for the consequences.

Pakistan?s deputy high commissioner Akbar Zeb was summoned by the foreign ministry this afternoon and told it was Islamabad?s ?clear obligation? to ensure ?the inviolability and sanctity? of the LoC. India made it clear that this was essential for maintaining ?tranquillity and security? along the LoC and the international border.

JKLF boss Amanullah Khan, based in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir, has said that he would lead his supporters across the LoC on October 4. His supporters in Srinagar have also decided to cross the LoC to unite with their ?brothers?.

This is not the first time the JKLF has tried to cross over. But, in the past, they were deterred by the Pakistani army and security forces. This year, its decision assumes significance in the backdrop of the Kargil conflict.

Indian officials told Zeb that it was his government?s responsibility to ensure that the JKLF?s attempt is thwarted.

Zeb said he told the officials that previous attempts by the outfit had always been checked by Islamabad. ?These things happen from time to time, but we have ensured that they do not lead to crossing over,? he said.

But Zeb?s remarks fall short of an assurance. Delhi is taking the necessary precautions to ensure the JKLF plan is foiled. If an attempt is made ? with Islamabad?s tacit support ? to cross the LoC, forcing Indian troops to open fire, it could bring back the focus of the international community on Kashmir.

Pakistan?s decision yesterday to file a case against India in the International Court of Justice over the Atlantique shoot-down is also being seen by Delhi as an attempt to keep the dispute boiling with the ongoing United Nations General Assembly in mind.

Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said: ?The Pakistani aircraft was on a hostile military mission and engaged in espionage activity.? He said the aircraft not only violated international regulations, but also an agreement signed by the two countries in 1991.

Delhi, however, did not clarify if it was going to contest the Pakistani case. It maintained that Pakistan?s decision was a ?desperate propaganda gimmick timed to coincide with the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York?.    

New York, Sept. 22 
The Pakistanis have lost in Kargil, but they are determined not to let history repeat itself here at the first major post-Kargil international event attended by both India and Pakistan.

Reinforcing that determination, Pakistan?s foreign minister Sartaj Aziz has arrived here even as his country?s diplomats have been burning midnight oil in an all-out effort to get their minister reinstated as a speaker this week in the general debate in the 54th UN General Assembly.

After extensive lobbying and procedural wrangles stretching into the wee hours of the morning, the UN secretariat has finally agreed to let Aziz and his Indian counterpart Jaswant Singh speak on the same day in the assembly. They will both take part in the general debate on the evening of Wednesday, which will be early morning on Thursday in the Indian subcontinent.

What appears to have lent considerable weight to the Pakistani campaign among UN diplomats was US President Bill Clinton?s address to the assembly on Tuesday, six paragraphs of which were devoted to non-proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. He said: ?152 nations have signed CTBT, and while India and Pakistan did test nuclear weapons last year, the international reaction proved that the global consensus against proliferation is very strong. We need to bolster the standards and reinforce that consensus.? If Clinton?s remarks brought last year?s South Asian nuclear tests back to the centrestage of the ongoing general debate, several foreign ministers who have met Singh this week have been quizzing him on India?s accession to CTBT and on the draft nuclear doctrine. On Tuesday, Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov discussed with Singh the threats to arms control steps, mainly on account of US plans for anti-ballistic missile defence systems.

For the Pakistanis in the UN, all this has been a godsend: it reinforced the desire among the international community to hear both India and Pakistan on non-proliferation, especially in the context of what their Prime Ministers, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif, had told the assembly about CTBT last year.

Sharif had made a commitment to sign CTBT by September while Vajpayee had said India would not stand in the way of the treaty entering into force. What tilted the scales in favour of Aziz?s reinstatement as a speaker this week, however, was his determined presence here, despite being relegated to the bottom of the general debate on October 2.

Most diplomats in the UN felt it would be churlish to blindly throw the rule book at Pakistan when its Prime Minister had already been allotted a speaking slot this week according to rules and the country had duly sent its foreign minister to take that slot.

Pakistani diplomats here marshalled a mountain of evidence citing precedents and rules to prove that replacement of a head of government did not imply that a country lost its allotted speaking slot. They argued that such changes were mandated only if a head of state was replaced by a foreign minister.

A definite casualty of this wrangle over Aziz?s speaking slot is a meeting here between the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers. The Indian delegation led by Singh was so certain of a change in Aziz?s schedule that it arrived here without the usual official back up for any talks with Aziz.

Neither foreign secretary K. Raghunath nor the joint secretary in South Block dealing with Pakistan, Vivek Katju, has accompanied Singh to New York. These two officials have been part of every negotiation between Indian and Pakistan since last year?s nuclear tests, whether they have been held in Colombo, Durban or New York.

South Asian diplomats here privately expressed the view that had Aziz not succeeded in getting himself reinstated as a speaker this week, his position as a minister in the Sharif Cabinet would have been considerably weakened. Already, there are rumblings in Islamabad over Aziz?s performance during and after Kargil and there is speculation that he may be replaced by the more articulate and forceful Mushahid Hussain, now information minister. For Aziz?s growing critics, missing this week?s date with Singh in the General Assembly would have been the proverbial last straw on the camel?s back.

Apart from jeopardising Pakistan?s campaign for a non-permanent Security Council seat in 2003, Aziz?s absence here this week would have meant missing a crucial meeting of the Saarc foreign ministers after Saarc chairman Sri Lanka decided to go ahead with the meeting later in the week with or without Pakistan. For Aziz, though the problems aren?t over. As an unscheduled arrival, he is having difficulties getting bilateral meetings with key counterparts in the campaign for the council seat.    


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