Pak protects LoC for India
Whisper of rural scare in CPM repoll cry
Sharif dumps Delhi bane in US
Sharad falls back on fast to death

Srinagar, Oct. 4 
Pakistani security forces today pushed back an attempt by Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) activists to cross the Line of Control (LoC) near Hajira in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), while the Valley witnessed sporadic violence during polling for the Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency.

Militants set up a string of landmine explosions and opened fire at several places in an attempt to disrupt the polling, which remained dismal. The militant attacks set off panic early in the morning and few bothered to come out to vote. Towards the end of the day, chief electoral officer S.V. Bhave announced that 15 per cent polling had been recorded in Anantnag. He, however, added the figure could go up after reports were consolidated.

The election observer for Anantnag, K.K. Sahai, had a miraculous escape at Aru, near Pahalgam, when a landmine blast ripped through his escort jeep. Elsewhere, polling agents of the National Conference and the CPM were injured in bomb attacks on polling stations. Over two dozen securitymen, too, are reported injured in poll-related assaults by militants.

The wounded include three Rashtriya Rifles soldiers, whose vehicle was blown apart by a landmine near Pulwama. The blast was followed by a rocket attack on a polling station, injuring nine jawans.

In Hajira in PoK, where JKLF activists had gathered overnight to attempt a violation of the LoC, Pakistani securitymen used tear gas and baton charges to scatter the protesters. Among the marchers was Pakistan-based JKLF chief Amanullah Khan. Nearly 250 JKLF activists were reported to have been arrested while trying to cross over from Hajira, 10 km from the LoC.

Khan has vowed to make another attempt to breach the LoC tomorrow, a PTI report said.

A top JKLF leader told Islamabad-based wire services over the phone from its Hajira control room that ?a pitched battle is on between our activists and security forces?. He confirmed the arrests of JKLF activists. A government official in Muzaffarabad, however, denied the arrests. He admitted that security forces had used batons and tear gas. ?The situation is totally under control,? he said.

The Pakistan government had banned the JKLF?s proposed march across the LoC ? its second such attempt ? and assured India it would foil the bid. India had cautioned Islamabad that it would be responsible for the consequences if it failed to stop the marchers. The Directors-General of Military Operations in the two countries were in touch today over the JKLF attempt.

The strike called by the separatist All-Party Hurriyat Conference in the Kashmir Valley evoked overwhelming response. Most residents stayed indoors, shops were closed and traffic remained off the roads. Only troops were seen patrolling deserted streets.

Hurriyat acting chairman Mohammed Yaseen Malik and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Awami Action Committee, were arrested soon after they claimed that the poll boycott had been a big success.

A bored presiding officer at the Dolipora polling station said: ?This is a punishment for us. My eyes are tired now waiting for voters but they have not come.? Till well past noon, he said, not one of the 620 votes in the polling station had been cast. In the towns of Pulwama and Pampore, polling staff enjoyed a siesta.

At some places like Wupsan and Qazigund, troops were seen nudging people to the voting booths. ?We are only persuading them to come out without any fear and cast their votes,? said a soldier defensively.

The polling booths in Bijbehara, hometown of former Union home minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, were deserted but for a few residents.    

Calcutta, Oct. 4 
For the first time in two decades, the CPM?s famed faith in its rural stranglehold was put to test as it emerged today that almost all the booths where the party has demanded repoll are located outside the city.

Only one of the 200 booths in 10 constituencies where Polit-buro member Biman Bose had alleged voter intimidation falls within the city ? under Calcutta North-East.

The rest are all in districts where the CPM?s writ had run unchallenged for 23 years. ?Polling in these booths had turned into a farce,? Bose had said yesterday. Such cries of distress, unheard from the Bengal behemoth so far, have exposed the party to taunts that it was feeling the Trinamul Congress? heat even in its rural citadels.

?They (the CPM) are making bogus complaints because they scent defeat in these seats. Is it possible for any Trinamul supporter to capture a booth in this Left regime?? Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee asked.

Another source of alarm for the CPM was reports which claimed that Trinamul supporters flexed their muscles in full public view with hardly any voter raising a murmur of protest.

?Perhaps it is time we had a rethink about public support in these seats,? a senior CPM leader said today, conceding that never before in 23 years had the party demanded repoll on such a large scale. ?I cannot believe that our election agents had to come out of so many booths.?

The CPM leadership is surprised that the party?s cadre could not stand up to Trinamul workers even in red-belts like Arambag, Bishnupur, Berhampore, Nabadwip and Diamond Harbour.

The number of booths where the CPM has demanded repoll is highest in Arambag at 60, followed by 30 in Berhampore and 10 each in Nabadwip and Bishnupur. In Malda, a Congress stronghold, the CPM has sought repoll in 51 booths.

?We could not depute election agents to most of the booths because of the threats posed to their lives by Trinamul and BJP activists,? Bose said.

In Daulatchowk, a village in Arambag, Trinamul supporters captured all the booths and assaulted election agent Mohanlal Manna, Bose said. They allegedly snatched the ballot paper from Manna?s wife, Bharati, after she refused to stamp on the Trinamul symbol.

?In Falta, Diamond Harbour, four booths were captured by Trinamul activists. In the Satgachia Assembly segment (chief minister Jyoti Basu?s seat) of Diamond Harbour, booth number 124 was captured,? Bose alleged.

?The Congress forcibly drove out CPM agents from 30 booths in Berhampore town,? he added.

However, Mamata accused the CPM of using select bureaucrats to rig elections. Figuring high on her hit list are IPS officers Chayan Mukherjee, A.K. Maliwal and R.K. Sahuri, superintendents of police of North 24-Parganas, South 24-Parganas and Midnapore. ?Let the election process be over,? Banerjee thundered, ?I will initiate legal and political action against them.?

In a representation to the Election Commission, the Trinamul claimed that ?Indian democracy was raped? in many booths.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu ridiculed the Doordarshan-sponsored exit poll forecasts which predicted that the Left Front?s votebank would shrink. ?I don?t believe in exit poll results and give no importance to such predictions,? Basu said.

Repoll in 15 booths

The Election Commission today ordered repoll in 15 booths spread over eight parliamentary constituencies in West Bengal tomorrow.

Polling in constituencies where elections could not be held yesterday due to floods will also be held tomorrow.    

Washington, Oct. 4 
There are smiles all over at the Indian embassy in Washington.

As aftershocks of the Kargil conflict continue to be felt here, Riaz Khokhar, the bete noire of the Indian Foreign Service, has left Pakistan?s embassy here in ignominy, making way for a personal nominee of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as the new ambassador to the US.

The departure of Khokhar last month is a silent acknowledgement by Sharif?s government that under his stewardship of the embassy here, relations between Pakistan and the US have plummeted and that a drastic renovation of their ties is necessary to once more attempt to bring together the two old Cold War allies.

For the high profile Khokhar, who was high commissioner in India before getting the coveted post in Washington, this is the first setback in a meteoric career which has seen him emerge as the fountainhead of Islamabad?s India policy during some of the most turbulent phases in Indo-Pakistan relations.

Khokhar?s penchant for excellent public relations, his effectiveness as a formidable diplomatic adversary and his ability to weave his way through the minefields of Islamabad?s politics made him a figure of hate in South Block throughout his stay in New Delhi.

Among Islamabad?s politically well-connected bureaucrats, he was almost alone in being able to ingratiate himself to the establishments of both Sharif and his main political rival, Benazir Bhutto.

For this reason, South Block was convinced that Khokhar was destined to become foreign secretary, a job which would have enabled him to script Islamabad?s policy towards New Delhi and influence the political leadership and the army in their attitudes towards India.

To the relief of Indian diplomats, Khokhar?s stay in Washington has, however, been a disaster from the start. He replaced the urbane, cigarette-smoking, journalist-turned-diplomat, Maleeha Lodhi, as ambassador.

For most Americans, especially on Capitol Hill, Lodhi was the symbol of Pakistan?s moderate Islam, an image which Benazir Bhutto had tried very hard to project in the US.

They found Khokhar?s ways boorish, his constant gripe against India a dull bore. If the US has been tilting slowly towards India as opposed to Pakistan in the last two years, it was only partly because of strategy and geopolitics: one key reason was that with Khokhar as envoy here, contacts with key US constituents of Pakistan suffered deeply.

During the Kargil conflict, Khokhar was summoned twice to the US state department by Karl Inderfurth, assistant secretary for South Asia, and given a dressing down ? something that would have been unthinkable in the days of US-Pakistan amity.

Eventually, Prime Minister Sharif and the army leadership in Islamabad concluded that Khokhar was a liability in Washington.

But it is a tribute to Khokhar?s clout in Islamabad that he could not simply be banished to Ouagadougou or Timbuctoo. Sharif had to send him to Beijing, but in the straitjacket in which Beijing?s diplomats operate, Khokhar will have very little room for manoeuvre on India policy.

Khokhar?s successor here is the mild-mannered, soft-spoken Tariq Fatmi, who has come from the Prime Minister?s office in Islamabad, and therefore, enjoys Sharif?s trust. This week, he will share a podium with Indian ambassador Naresh Chandra at the National Press Centre here, the first public encounter between the two envoys.

Though delighted by Khokhar?s ignominious departure, Indian diplomats here are, however, realising that Fatmi is no pushover.

Even before he has properly settled down, the Pakistan embassy has redoubled its lobbying efforts here, resulting in the letter signed by 60-odd Congressmen calling for the appointment of a special envoy of the US President on Kashmir.    

Patna, Oct. 4 
Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav, who is contesting from Madhepura against Laloo Yadav, today threatened to fast until death if the ?rigged? polls in the seat were not countermanded.

Sharad Yadav said he will begin satyagraha from tomorrow at Jhanda Maidan in Madhepura along with his supporters. Last year, too, he had done the same thing.

?It seemed from the way the polls were conducted that it was not a fight between Laloo Yadav and me. It appeared to be a fight between the state administration and me,? Sharad Yadav said.

He alleged that the state machinery worked against him and turned a blind eye while the Rashtriya Janata Dal cadre had their way. ?This is a fight to stop a travesty of an election. If my demand is not met, the fight will continue till my death,? he said.

The JD (U) also demanded the removal of Madhepura district magistrate and returning officer Lian Kunga. Sharad Yadav alleged Kunga did not use the available force despite repeated reminders and allowed hooligans to loot at least 500 booths. ?I will not consider any offer of a repoll. The entire election should be rescheduled,? he said.

Kunga said he had made the best possible use of forces. ?It was not possible to give static forces to all the booths. Wherever static forces were not deployed, there were patrolling forces. I had demanded 40 companies of paramilitary forces and received only 22,? Kunga said.

Laloo Yadav said Sharad Yadav was indulging in political gimmicks as he had began to realise that he was losing. The RJD chief said Sharad Yadav?s supporters had killed the RJD block chief at Chausa and tried to rig polls in many booths. ?When he failed, he began to talk about booth-capturing,? Laloo Yadav said.

He left for Madhepura today to attend a condolence meeting to mourn the killing of Chausa block president Kailash Gupta.

A delegation of BJP leaders led by Kailashpati Mishra and the leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Sushil Modi, met Bihar?s chief electoral officer to demand countermanding of the Madhepura elections.    


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