Report of napalm attacks as army faces hard choice
Where time lay in ambush
Washington reads out riot act to Islamabad
Scholar crushed by falling drainpipe
Thimphu tunes in to chimes of the times
Calcutta Weather

June 2: 
A shell smashed into the brigade headquarters. Nothing is safe at Drass. Neither the lives of armymen, nor the barracks they fill.

?Luckily, there were no casualties,? said an army officer at Drass, the lifeline-like Srinagar-Leh highway under his care.

Death looms larger on his brigade than the ridges occupied by intruders from across the border. To eliminate one militant ?we need 10 soldiers,? the officer said.

In the battle to regain command of the Line of Control, the army faces a tough choice: sacrifice more lives and scale the snow-laden peaks or encircle them and fight a wait-and-watch war.

The officer said after the air strikes, ground troops have made progress. ?It is now a hand-to-hand fight and will take week, one month, even more.?

Amid unconfirmed reports of napalm bombs being dropped on two peaks today ? strongly denied by defence sources ? there are now doubts what the air strikes have achieved. The bleak landscape has only two colours, black and white, air force spokesperson Group Captain K. Rajaram said. At the height from which bombs are dropped, visibility is extremely poor, raising questions about the strike rate.

The officer at Drass voiced another fear. ?If the strikes continue, there is a danger they may cause casualties to our troops.?

Either way, the choice before the army is clear: press ahead towards the peaks braving the firepower of rockets and assault rifles that the intruders unleash from the shelter of their boulder-made bunkers or throw a ring round the slopes at the bottom and wait them out.

With elections round the corner, neither choice is palatable to the political leadership. Many in the defence establishment are unhappy at the prospect of escorting out the insurgents, but this forms the backdrop to defence minister George Fernandes? statement yesterday hinting at a safe-passage offer.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee echoed Fernandes today when he said in Mumbai that India might consider safe passage, but ?only after talks? with Pakistan foreign minister Sartaj Aziz, expected to visit Delhi shortly. Asked if safe passage would mean surrender, Vajpayee said: ?No, it means withdrawal from our territory.?

But after a meeting of the cabinet committee on security, the PMO hurried to explain that Vajpayee?s statement was ?based on a hypothetical scenario?.

As Pakistan blamed India for not informing it of the date of talks between the two foreign ministers, the ?safe passage? refrain suggested it could well become the theme of a compromise, offering a face-saver to both sides.

India needs one no less than Pakistan does. As the Drass officer said: ?It may be a low-cost war for them, but it is a high-cost war for us...they are well-entrenched in the bunkers while we are fighting in the open and may suffer casualties.?

In the Drass sector, the army claimed that troops have encircled the infiltrators and cut off their supply lines. ?Now they are desperate and we will eliminate them one by one,? said an officer.

The army decision on whether or not to send troops up to the occupied peaks will vary according to the post-air attack situation on each of the summits and the logistical support available for ground movement and further air raids.

One option for the army is to climb adjacent mountain tops to negate the disadvantage of being fired at while ascending cliffs. Some sections in the army, however, prefer to hold on to positions at the bottom of the slopes and starve the insurgents out.

On reports that shelling has intensified in the Poonch and Rajouri sectors, an army spokesperson said there was nothing alarming in this. Elsewhere in Jammu, BSF and Pakistani Rangers traded fire at 12 outposts in Samba and Rajpura subsectors.    

?What?s your great hurry??? the officer?s assistant lightly wondered as he stamped and sealed the road permit to Kargil, ?We may not be calling it a war but whatever is going on up there is going to go on for a while. You may be back for much more.??

The Badami Bagh command headquarters still wears the distilled ease of a peacetime cantonment and though only a hundred-odd kilometres off the fire in the mountains, Srinagar itself seems far away from any battle arena; farther, sure than the intensity-charged briefing rooms of the South Block in New Delhi. The bad news, always the faster traveller, has begun to arrive though.

With every convoy that comes down the embattled heights, with every returning air sortie, the picture gets grimmer.

Though they wouldn?t put it quite so frankly or succinctly, senior officers are beginning to admit that air strikes?today was the eighth consecutive day of raids?have not achieved what they were meant to and ground troops aren?t finding the going terribly easy.

There is a growing sense even among senior officials that they may have under-estimated two crucial factors: the time Operation Cleanse would take and the casualties it would demand. This is just the beginning of the campaign to push the infiltration behind the LoC and already, more than 50 are dead, close to 200 injured and 15 missing.

?We have to adjust ourselves to the idea of a much longer operation and heavier casualties,?? said an officer. A month? Two months? He just shrugged and sardonically laughed. ?Maybe the winter, when it comes, will come to our aid.??

Despite claims of early successes, Indian forces are bogged down in what looks set to be a drawn-out up-today-down-tomorrow battle. And all indications are that in the days and weeks to come, air strikes will have to be phased out and more ground troops committed to the conflict. With jawans moving closer to positions held by their adversaries, the air force even today is having to guard against hitting its own troops; as the ground battle intensifies, air operations will have to cease or be substantially reduced.

?Our problem remains that the other side controls the heights and has an excellent idea of the topography. So even with air strikes, it is not so easy to push them off. Often in the past week, our air power has shaken them but our ground forces have been unable to do the mop-up job because they do not have the advantage of being on heights,?? said an officer, illustrating his point with the see-saw battle for the Tiger Hill ridges above Drass over the past week. ?We have been able to secure advantage along these ridges for periods but we have also lost it. This attrition will continue.??

What is bothering the defence establishment is the possibility of Pakistan ripping open fresh fronts with infiltrator waves. Already, they have added another sector to the battle-torn Drass-Kargil-Batalik crescent: Intruder movement was spotted in the Turtuk belt, east of Batalik, a few days ago and the operation to erect a bulwark there had to be intensified.

Besides, the infiltrators and Pakistani guns have kept up the pressure all along the LoC from Rajouri and Poonch in the Jammu region to Uri and Baramullah in the north, probing the frontier for fragility with their shells.

Worse, they have been able to set off synchronised explosions well within Indian territory. The killer blasts last week on the Jammu-Srinagar highway are being viewed with as much alarm as the battle round Kargil; they could well be a measure of the adversary?s depth of reach and ability of disruption.    

Washington, June 2 
The Clinton Administration has told Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in no uncertain terms to get the infiltrators out from Kargil and move quickly toward normalisation with India to save whatever remains of his country?s international reputation.

The tough message was delivered by secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who talked to Sharif over the weekend, well-informed sources told The Telegraph. Albright asked him to use every means possible to ?get these men out? from Indian territory and re-establish the Line of Control (LoC).

The clear and concise message from Washington is like a breath of fresh air for Indian officials who often are dismayed by the administration?s refusal to take sides. This time the US government clearly has taken India?s side, raising the possibility that Kargil be a turning point in Indo-US relations if New Delhi plays its cards right. Instead of suspicion, trust could build between the two sides as a positive by-product of a nasty incident.

The US administration has also dashed all Pakistani hopes of internationalising the Kashmir dispute by the backdoor. US officials said they are not in favour of these tactics. ?Pakistan will realise this will not get them to the United Nations,? one official commented.

The message was reinforced today when Karl Inderfurth, assistant secretary of state for South Asia, met Pakistani Ambassador Riaz Khokhar for the second time in a week to register a strong complaint about the Kargil situation. One of the main items on the agenda were the incendiary remarks by foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmed who reportedly threatened to use ?any weapon? to defend Pakistan.

Inderfurth told Khokhar that Islamabad must put a lid on inflammatory rhetoric of this kind because it is highly irresponsible. The News, a Pakistani daily, had quoted Ahmed as saying: ?We will not hesitate to use any weapon in our arsenal to defend our territorial integrity.? This rang immediate alarm bells in Washington and other capitals, triggering a series of summons to Pakistani envoys.

Pakistan issued a clarification, saying Ahmed was not referring to the use of nuclear weapons but the remark has registered at high levels of the Clinton Administration.

US officials familiar with the situation made it abundantly clear that they were giving different messages to India and Pakistan. While the riot act is being read to Pakistan, there is understanding and sympathy for India?s point of view and dilemma. Officials have praised India?s restraint and repeatedly referred to the militants as ?Pakistan-connected? and ?infiltrators from Pakistan?.

?Our communications are not exactly parallel,? one official said, using diplomatic language to explain that the administration is using different strokes for the two countries. ?We have no reason to take issue with India?s explanation,? he added.

India has given a ?fairly candid description of how it all evolved?. Indian diplomats have told the American side about how they first realised that armed infiltrators had come in and how they had to get more information to ensure the magnitude of the problem. India used reconnaissance planes from the beginning to determine the extent of the incursion.

?It will take us a long time to piece together what exactly happened for ourselves. Once India takes back the territory, we will realise whether these guys built fox holes or tunnels and how they came across,? one US official said. ?Obviously, it is a very bold initiative quite apart from the policy stupidity of it,? he said, referring to Pakistan?s adventurous move in Kargil.    

Calcutta, June 2: 
A research scholar was killed instantly on the Ballygunge Science College campus when a large section of a metal drainpipe, loosened from its clamps, crashed down on him today.

The police said the pipe, which had come off its clamps on the outer wall of the college building, nearly flattened 26-year-old Nabakumar Hudati?s head.

Hudati, engaged in research on malarial parasites at the zoology department, was taken to Shishu Mangal Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

In protest against the university?s neglect of the college building, students and research scholars confronted vice-chancellor R.N. Basu and other senior officials, demanding that the caretaker of the 35-year-old, dilapidated building be removed.

Today?s was the third incident over the past six months in which portions of the university?s College Street and Rajabajar campuses fell on students and employees. This time, a life was lost; on two previous occasions, the victims escaped with injuries.

University engineer P. K. Kundu was unaware of the mishap till 5.30 pm and reached the spot after two-and-half hours. The police were in a quandary till late tonight, trying to fix the responsibility of the incident. The authorities ? from the campus caretaker to the engineer ? tried to pass the buck and disowned responsibility for the mishap.

Around 3.30 pm, Nabakumar, accompanied by research guide Buddhadev Manna, went to collect mosquito larvae and snails from a pond behind the sprawling eight-storey building inside the campus for his experiments.

?On their way back to the zoology department a strong wind started blowing. Manna was walking ahead of Nabakumar. Suddenly, we saw the huge drainpipe, nearly 30 feet above him, come off its clamps and fall on Nabakumar, killing him instantly.... We were taken aback by the suddenness of the entire thing,? said an eyewitness, who is also a Class IV employee of the college.

Manna was numb with shock. He looked back dazedly at reporters and had no answers to their queries.

Nabakumar?s relatives in Domjur, Howrah district, were in the dark about his death till the evening. Nabakumar used to stay in a hostel in Jadavpur.

Students lashed out at the authorities for their callousness. They said portions of the Ballygunge building had become run down over the years, with cracks appearing on the walls, windows hanging from their hinges and panes falling into the field below.    

Thimphu, June 2: 
At 5.15 this afternoon, with the press of a button that launched Bhutan?s first television broadcast, King Jigmye Singye Wangchuk opened up this tiny Himalayan kingdom to a world which so far has passed by virtually unnoticed and catapulted it into the information age.

For centuries, Bhutan has resisted the outside world and obsessively clung to its culture as a means of national survival. But the launching of television and the Internet to coincide with the silver jubilee of the King?s coronation today has marked a major step in reconciling tradition with modernity.

The King was only too aware of this when, addressing his people, he said: ?I would like to remind our youth that television and Internet can be both beneficial as well as negative for society. I trust you will exercise your good sense and judgment in using them.?

But even as this spit-and-polish capital, surrounded by cloud-kissed mountains, is all dressed up in lights and gay banners, doubts and fear persist amid citizens about how this age of information may forever change their lives. ?It will be bewildering for the people here to see so much of violence that the media focuses on,? said Oxford-educated Karma Ura, who heads the Centre of Bhutan Studies. ?It is fortunate that most people of this country will not be able to afford television sets.?

In this largely agrarian society, crime is low, denim jeans are banned and people still dress in their traditional outfit, the gho and the kiri.

But not everyone shares Ura?s scepticism. ?I am worried about what television may do to people here, but this was a process that could not have been stopped,? said Kinley Dorji, editor of Bhutan?s only newspaper Kuensel. ?We just cannot afford to be marginalised and there is hardly any point in resisting these changes.?

Such an effort, in any case, may have proved futile, as is clear from Thimphu?s changing skyline. In the past few months, over a hundred dish antennae have sprouted on rooftops here.

But the government has preferred to look the other way. ?There has never been any crackdown as it would have been impossible to halt this trend,? Dorji said. ?The people here were willing to risk their sets being confiscated.?

More to the point, it was the King?s drive towards political reforms and modernisation that was responsible for this. Last June, he had stunned the nation by issuing a Royal Edict that handed over the day-to-day running of the nation to an elected council and gave the National Assembly the right to impeach the monarch. It was only inevitable that sooner rather than later the skies would be opened up to the nation.

?We see this as a process of modernisation that was started by the King?s father, Jigmye Dorji Wangchuk,? said environment minister Nado Rinchhen. In the Sixties, Wangchuk Senior built roads and hospitals in a nation that could, till then, only be reached either on mules or by trekking.

But in a devoutly Buddhist nation, even this progress is tempered with religion. Treading the path of ?sustainable development? ? which balances materialistic pursuits with the more spiritual ones ? most Bhutanese are confident that the ?corrupting? influences of the information age can be kept at bay.

?Television will be an eye-opener for us, and especially for our children who can learn so much from it,? feels Thinley Lham, a mother of two. ?Without knowledge we cannot advance.?

In the markets, however, it is the pursuit of materialism that is at full play. At NT Enterprise, the sole distributors of Sony television sets, Namgay Tshering has sold 50 sets last week. ?Earlier, when people would buy sets only to watch video, I would sell this amount in about two months,? Tshering said.

No one in Thimphu has their hopes pinned on what the local station has to offer. ?It will be very basic, with three hours of broadcasting everyday,? said Sonam Tshong, who heads the Bhutan Broadcasting Service. ?But the important thing is that we are finally on our way and that is the most exciting part of it.?

If anything, excitement is certainly not in short supply. Namgye, a 50-year-old monk of Shung Dratsang, or the head monastery here, has never watched television, but is waiting to watch the broadcasts with the eagerness of a child. ?I have never been out of Bhutan, but now I will finally get to know what other countries are all about. I am looking forward to it,? he said.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Development of thunderclouds towards afternoon or evening.
Temperature: Maximum 38.4?C (3?C above normal)
Minimum 29.3?C (2?C above normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 91% Minimum 38%
Rainfall: Nil
Sunset: 6.14 pm Sunrise: 4.55 am    

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