- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

Insider notes from United Press International for Jan. 17:

The Brahmos, a 170-mile range supersonic cruise missile developed jointly by Russia and India, is being readied for its first test-firing from a ship later this month, and is scheduled to become operational next year. No date yet for the first test-firing from the aerial platform, which will almost certainly be one of India's new Russian-supplied Su-30 warplanes. Designed to slip under the 190-mile range threshold of the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Brahmos is a multi-platform weapon, capable of being fired from land, air, ship or submarine. The Brahmos is theoretically supposed to be nuclear-capable, but a suitably miniaturized warhead would require the kind of testing that is seen as politically unlikely given current Indo-Pakistani tensions. But the Brahmos is not necessarily aimed at Pakistan. Even a conventional warhead on the ship-borne version would give India confidence that it could defeat any Chinese surface naval challenge in the Bay of Bengal or Indian Ocean. Just to ram the point home, India is planning to test its Agni-III missile by the end of this year. Its 2,000-mile range is far too long for Pakistan, but brings Shanghai into the reach of India's deterrent.

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Some Indians believe they hardly need a deterrent. Nukes have no fears for devout Hindus armed with cow dung. One R.S. Gupta, chairman of the Uttar Pradesh Gau Sewa Ayog (State Cow Protection Commission), has solemnly informed a local news conference, "Houses with an outer coating of cowpat could be the safest place to be in during a nuclear attack." According to Gupta, there was sufficient evidence to support this theory in the traditional Hindu scriptures. "We are now working on a scientific back-up," he added. Uttar Pradesh Animal Husbandry Minister L.K. Bajpai said, "I propose to send samples of specially prepared cow dung to the Bhabha Atomic Research Center that could be used as an external coating over the plaster of buildings." What's more, this exemplar of the increasingly bizarre "vedification" trend among fundamentalist Hindus proposes that you too can have the prettiest A-bomb shelter in your village. Minister Vajpai revealed that a local firm had developed a form of paint in five colors, with 30 percent base being cow dung.

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The state-owned Azerbaijani Airlines AzAL has become the first foreign airline

to begin passenger flights to Kabul, with Boeing-727s now operating three flights a week. AzAL is hoping that Baku will become a gateway for Europeans traveling onward to Central Asia. The Baku-Kabul flights will be conducted via two routes, through Turkmenistan and Iran.

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Japan is lifting its long ban on basing nuclear-powered U.S. warships, largely because the U.S. Navy is running out of aircraft carriers powered by steam turbines. Hitherto, the carriers Midway, Independence and Kitty Hawk (all steam-powered) have used the Yokosuka naval base as a home port, but the Kitty Hawk is due to be decommissioned in 2008. The principle of nuclear basing having been agreed, talks are under way on building special maintenance facilities and disaster-prevention systems. The Pentagon has agreed to continue "complying" with Japan's three non-nuclear principles: not possessing, not developing and not bringing nuclear weapons to Japan. The United States neither confirms nor denies the presence of nuclear weapons aboard its carriers, a polite fiction that Japan discreetly does not challenge.

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Chechen students in Moscow, testifying before the Duma on the harassment problems they now face in the Russian capital, report that after the theater-hostage incident in October they tore up their address and phone books, just in case, so as to avoid giving police during room searches any grounds for suspicion. They also claim it is now routine to sew up their pockets when going out in Moscow so drugs or other illegal material can't be slipped into them if they end up being detained.

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Belgian brewers have begun to water their beer — and it's all the fault of the French. Supposedly designed to cut alcoholism, a new French tax that would double the cost of a strong beer (more than 8.5 percent alcohol) is threatening the sales of Belgium's famed abbey beers like Chimay, Leffe and Westmalle. Reckoned by beer fans to be among the best in the world, the Belgian strong beers are traditionally brewed by monks using the yeast spores that have accumulated in their cellars over the centuries. Breaking their vow of silence, the Trappist monks who brew the legendary Chimay are complaining to the European Commission, objecting that the French are breaching Europe's free trade rules. Bigger brewers are simply weakening their beers for the French market.

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