Friday, December 28, 2001, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

India cuts strength of missions by half
Bans overflights by Pakistani planes
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 27
India today again sent out strong signals to Pakistan to act decisively against various terrorist organisations operating from within its territory before New Delhi’s patience runs out by banning the use of Indian airspace by the Pakistani planes and giving an ultimatum for reduction of its High Commission staff by 50 per cent within the next 48 hours.

India will also reduce its High Commission staff by 50 per cent. Both missions in New Delhi and Islamabad have a sanctioned strength of 110 personnel excluding families. The two-day deadline for scaling down of the missions will begin at 6 a.m tomorrow.

India further announced restriction over the movement of the remaining Pakistani High Commission staff, which will be thoroughly monitored by the Indian security agencies. The remaining Pakistani staff and their family members will be allowed movement only within the “municipal limits” of Delhi.

The measure to restrict the movement of the remaining Pakistani staff and their family members comes in the wake of some of its staff members being caught for involvement in espionage activities.

The measures, which also reflect India’s effort to further step up its diplomatic effort, were announced by the External Affairs Minister, Mr Jaswant Singh after a two-and-a-half hour meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which was held at two places. First the CCS members, who include Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee as its Chairman, Defence Minister George Fernandes, Home Minister L.K. Advani, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha were briefed by the three service chiefs in the “war room” of the Ministry of Defence in South Block.

Later, all members assembled in the Prime Minister’s Office to take stock of the situation and take a final decision on further steps to be adopted by India in its effort to force Pakistan to act against various terrorist groups wanting to wage a war against it.

Accusing Pakistan of not doing enough to curb cross-border terrorism being sponsored by it, the CCS decided that all Pakistani planes, including the commercial flights run by the PIA, would not be allowed to use the Indian airspace from January 1, 2002.

Tonight’s decisions come on top of the recall of Indian High Commissioner Vijay K Nambiar after Pakistan was accused of not taking comprehensive action on the Indian demand for proceeding against Pakistan-based terrorist outfits — Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) — for their involvement in the audacious December 13 attack on Parliament.

Today’s decisions also come after the External Affairs Minister had a detailed talk with US Secretary of State Colin Powell. The minister, in his talks, shared evidence of Pakistani involvement and also spoke about India’s resolve in fighting terrorism.

Asked about the possibility of a war between the two countries, Mr Jaswant Singh told reporters after the CCS meeting that “ there is no need for anyone to worry. We are fully prepared.”

Whatever Pakistan has done has been only “cosmetic” and to “dupe the international community”, the External Affairs Minister said.

Last week, the Indian government had also decided to cancel bus and rail links between the two countries from January 1.

On the restriction imposed on movement of Pakistani staff in Delhi, Mr Jaswant Singh said: “This is particularly important in the context of recent events of the Pakistan High Commission being involved in espionage as well as direct dealings with terrorist organisations.” He said Pakistan needed to show by its actions that it had seriously joined the coalition against terrorism.

“The totality of rejection by the entire cross-section of our country’s opinion about Pakistan’s continued sponsorship of cross-border terrorism and promotion of terrorism as an instrument of state policy has not been appreciated by Islamabad,” he said.

To a question, Mr Jaswant Singh said he would not speculate as to what other options remained alive. “Let us not speculate,” he said.

He said India had very clearly spelt out at the very beginning what was expected of a definite action against the LeT and the JeM — their banning, seizure of assets and arrest of people concerned.

He said MPs in groups would shortly travel to several parts of the world to mobilise international opinion.

He said the SAARC summit in Kathmandu in the first week of January would go on as scheduled and the tension along the Indo-Pak border would have no effect on it.

Asked whether the Cabinet Committee on Security discussed measures like air strikes on Pakistan, Mr Jaswant Singh said he would not discuss military matters in public.

Accusing Islamabad of duping the international community with half-measures, non-measures and fictitious incidents, Mr Jaswant Singh said “ this is not acceptable.”

Maintaining that Pakistan’s steps against the LeT and the JeM were inadequate, he said: “Terrorism cannot simply be justified on any grounds or any name. It must be eradicated fully.”

Mr Jaswant Singh said the military regime in Pakistan had really made a joke as regards to the arrest of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar as it had arrested his brother, who was let off after a day, and information about the JeM chief was not available now.

In an apparent reference to Dawood Ibrahim, he said any number of known criminals were finding shelter in Pakistan.

On Mr Powell’s suggestion that India and Pakistan hold talks to resolve the problem, the External Affairs Minister said it was “not practical nor possible”.

The External Affairs Minister replied in the negative when asked whether India had withdrawn the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to Pakistan.

“We have withdrawn the High Commissioner but we have not withdrawn the civility of conduct between the two countries,” he said.


Pakistan does tit for tat

Islamabad, December 27
Pakistan today retaliated against India with tit-for-tat sanctions, saying that it would halve the neighbouring country’s diplomatic staff in Islamabad and ban Indian overflights.

“We have to take reciprocal actions. We will slash their diplomatic staff by 50 per cent. Their staff will also be limited to Islamabad,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan. “We will also not permit overflying of Indian Airlines just as they have banned PIA flights,” he said. Reuters


Government to keep up diplomatic offensive
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 27
In gearing up for the decisive battle against the menace of cross-border terrorism, the Atal Behari Vajpayee government is determined to keep up the diplomatic offensive against Pakistan without lowering its guard on the border.

The armed forces are on high alert even as the Union Defence Minister described the situation along the international border with the intransigent northern neighbour as grave. In an endeavour not to send wrong signals within the country, officers and men have been advised to report to stations though there is no mass cancellation of leave as evidenced in Pakistan.

Highly placed sources said that directives had gone to the unit commanders in all three forces to decide whether those on leave need to be recalled. “Everything will depend on the exigencies of the situation though there is no reason to press the panic button,” sources disclosed.

The NDA leadership is pursuing a step-by-step approach and is unlikely to precipitate matters. First, all diplomatic options which began with the recall of India’s high commissioner to Pakistan have to be exhausted. “There are any number of steps and some of these measures can have an adverse societal impact in Pakistan,” sources stressed.

Simultaneously, opinion is building in the higher echelons of the government that New Delhi should scale down the strength of its mission in Islamabad drastically and in turn reduce the sizeable number of Pakistan’s ISI operatives in the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has cancelled his year end vacation and decided to stay put in the national capital to keep close watch on the developments. It is apparent the mood in the NDA government in keeping with the widespread public opinion in the country is one of “decisive action” on the diplomatic front.

Mr Vajpayee is expected to visit his constituency Lucknow in the New Year on January 2 and 3 before proceeding to Kathmandu from there for the much-postponed SAARC summit scheduled to be held in the Himalayan Kingdom from January 4 to 6. During his stay in Lucknow, the Prime Minister might launch his party’s election campaign in Uttar Pradesh. Phased Assembly elections are due to be held in UP in February.

Even as a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the SAARC summit with Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf is ruled out, sources said several members of the fledgling grouping want a joint action plan to tackle cross-border terrorism.

Meanwhile, the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs described as a positive development the decision of the USA to proscribe the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad and designate them as foreign terrorist outfits (FTO) for their involvement in the December 13 attack on the Parliament House.

At the same time the spokesperson said that India “is yet to see any meaningful action taken by Pakistan against the terrorist groups operating from its soil. There is a great deal Pakistan needs to do to drive a stake through the heart of terrorism. Pakistan is the epicentre of terrorism in our region,” she emphasised.

She did not think much of the reported arrest of JeM’s Maulana Azhar by the Pakistani authorities because the terrorist mastermind was receiving visitors and the lines of communication were open for people to contact him.

The spokesperson was categorical that there was no evidence to suggest that Islamabad had taken “meaningful action on India’s demand for arresting the leadership of the LeT and the JeM, banning the outfits and freezing their assets.”

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