The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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George in peace push

New Delhi, May 21: Defence minister George Fernandes today said the direction set by the Prime Minister for peace with Pakistan would not be disrupted by small incidents of violence by terrorist groups.

“The issue of peace is a much larger question than how many people were killed crossing the Line of Control yesterday or today. There is no indicator that infiltration is down or up. There may not be any incident today but there was one yesterday. It is not possible to determine whether the situation today will continue for the future,” Fernandes said.

“We are aware that this (a peace process) is going to take time. It has begun with both sides naming their respective high commissioners. We have also noted that businessmen across the borders are establishing ties. One Indian company has also entered into a joint venture with a Pakistani company. Confidence building is a long-term exercise,” he said.

The defence minister was speaking even as the army was winding down an intensive operation in Kashmir codenamed Sarp Vinash, in which it claimed to have killed 60 militants.

Army sources had said militants in the Hill Kaka area south of the Pir Panjal might have posed a threat to supply lines by acting in consort with an offensive from across the Line of Control.

Earlier today, the army chief, General Nirmal Vij, briefed deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani on the Kashmir operation. General Vij returned last evening from Kashmir after a two-day review.

General Vij said Operation Sarp Vinash had been planned with the state government over a period of time during which it was also decided to compensate the local people (most Bakarwals) for staying out of the area.

Hill Kaka, in and around which the operation that lasted more than three weeks took place, overlooked the Surankote ‘bowl’ south of the Pir Panjal and was a potential threat to the army.

General Vij also would not be drawn into determining if cross-border traffic was down. “There is no gap in our counter-insurgency grid. We have also not seen any slackening of effort (to push in infiltrators) by our neighbour but we have kept a good check and caused heavy attrition,” the army chief said.

Fernandes said Islamabad’s move to restrict the movement of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen leader was a “good step”. However, there was no authentic report of militant camps being closed down in PoK.

He said the Prime Minister’s initiative for a dialogue was being watched carefully the world over.

“In the past, he has made two attempts (referring to the Lahore bus ride and the Agra talks) that have failed but it does not follow that there will not be a success the third time. I believe that whatever wars and violence might take place, but ultimately, issues have to be resolved by sitting across the table,” Fernandes said.

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