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Delhi mulls military hotline with Pak

New Delhi, June 29: The security establishment is deeply considering military confidence building measures with Pakistan despite the foreign secretary-level talks that concluded here yesterday not delving into the subject in this round.

Among the proposals being formulated with inputs from the armed forces are “hotline” telephone contacts across half-a-dozen military sectors, including some involving sectoral commanders along the Line of Control (LoC), and involving all three services.

A Cabinet Committee on Security meeting yesterday, shortly after the foreign secretary-level talks concluded, turned into a “classroom session” for the top brains trust of the security establishment, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Army chief General .C. Vij and senior officials from the services were asked about the implications of reducing troops along the LoC. The questions raised were in the nature of enquiries and did not lead to directions or instructions from the political leadership.

The immediate reflection of the thinking on the confidence building measures was available today in a speech that defence minister Pranab Mukherjee made before troops in Jammu and Kashmir on his maiden visit to the state after taking over.

“We want peace with our neighbour and are willing to talk on all issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, and resolve them through dialogue,” Mukherjee told troops near Rajouri. “But for this, the other side has to make sincere efforts.”

Even in times of peace, defence ministers are given to making sterner statements especially when addressing troops. Now the message has gone down from the top that talking peace is the flavour of the season.

But Mukherjee ruled out reducing troops along the border in the state. He explained that soldiers there not only have to check infiltration but also conduct anti-militancy activities.

He also said there would not be any troops build-up.

Working out new military confidence building measures would involve deepening and broad-basing an agreement signed in 1991. The implementation of that agreement has been inconsistent. Among other things, it says Islamabad and New Delhi will give each other advance notice of major military movements and manoeuvres of the army, navy and the air force.

It says, for instance, that during corps-level military exercise in Rajasthan, Punjab and Gujarat, at least 15 days’ advance notice will be given and along the LoC in Jammu, notice will be given of division-level movements. Deepening the pact can involve discussions on a proposal to inform each other of even brigade-level movements. The proposal from the Coast Guards for a hotline with the Pakistani Maritime Security Agency is also under active consideration.

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