Pak warns of war after date snub
Delhi parades proof of direct role
US raps Sharif on knuckle again
If there?s Siachen-II, the capital?s here
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New Delhi, June 5 
India today rejected Pakistan?s proposal to begin talks on Monday, prompting a strong reaction from Islamabad which warned of the possibility of war.

Within hours of Delhi describing the date for Pakistan foreign minister Sartaj Aziz?s visit as ?inconvenient?, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said India ?is not serious about holding peace talks?.

AP quoted Sharif as saying: ?Chances of a war between Pakistan and India cannot be ruled out.? His foreign minister said Pakistan will await new dates.

Earlier, the Pakistan high commissioner in Delhi was informed of India?s rejection of the date suggested for talks.

India has been irked by Aziz?s statement in which he disputed the existing Line of Control (LoC) according to the Simla Agreement. Delhi has issued a strong statement, describing the LoC as inviolable and saying that Pakistani efforts to alter it through the ongoing war in Kargil would be prevented at all costs.

Speaking out for the first time on Operation Vijay, President K.R. Narayanan accused Pakistan of hoodwinking the world by questioning the sanctity of the LoC.

Even Pakistan is finding it difficult to explain Aziz?s statement on the LoC. ?I cannot comment on the statement made by anybody else because I am not his (the foreign minister?s) spokesman. You can ask Aziz,? information minister Mushahid Hussain said.

It appears that the two sides have not been able to agree on the conditions set by each other. India is keenly aware that it has a diplomatic edge in terms of response to the string of developments on the Kargil front and wants to exploit it while participating in a dialogue.

An external affairs ministry spokesperson said India had no conditions for a dialogue and, irrespective of the talks, the Indian army would persist with its campaign in Kargil and clear the ridges of intruders.

He reiterated that the signals for a dialogue had come from the other side and those who would be interlocutors on the Indian side had their own engagements and schedules. ?It must match the calendars of the key interlocutors,? he said. It was apparent from what he said that the date would be decided at India?s convenience.

The decision to differ on the date was, in effect, a snub to Pakistan. India had been discussing a possible date with the Pakistani establishment through diplomatic channels. And this is the second time that India has turned down an offer for an early dialogue. Soon after Operation Vijay was launched, Aziz?s offer to come over last Tuesday was refused.

Apart from differences over conditions, it appears that the Indian government is also weighing the pros and cons of starting talks at this stage.

India claims to have achieved a substantial percentage of its military targets. For example, in the war in Batalik ? one of the most intense zones in the Kargil sector ? the success percentage has been claimed to be almost as high as 50, with nearly five of the 10 occupied intruder positions having been cleared.    

June 5 
New Delhi today pulled off a publicity coup by producing credible documentary evidence to prove direct participation of Pakistani soldiers in the Kargil war.

While at the Corps headquarters in Srinagar, the army touted the recovery of the bodies of three Pakistani soldiers as ?clear proof? of Islamabad?s involvement, in Delhi, a sleek presentation aided by on-screen graphics set out to convince the media that India has been dragged into a proxy war.

The presentation by army spokesman Brigadier Mohan Bhandari was well-planned and well-articulated. The army produced identity cards, pay-books and even casual leave applications obtained from the three Pakistani regulars whose bodies have been brought to Srinagar.

The Indian military establishment is negotiating with Pakistan for the return of the bodies. The spokesman, however, could not give details of the negotiations.

In Srinagar, too, all that Brigadier A.K. Chopra would say was that the bodies would be handed over to ?Pakistan at an appropriate place?.

This is a crucial decision for Pakistan. If the Nawaz Sharif government agrees to take back the bodies, it would amount to admitting that Pakistani regulars are fighting in Kargil. Its claim that Mujahideens had planned the Line of Control breach would then sound hollow.

Pakistan information minister Mushahid Hussain did not deny the Indian claim, but said a flag meeting would be held between the military authorities of the two sides and ?if the Indians come up with something concrete, the Pakistani side will investigate the fact and respond accordingly?.

The three men India is claiming to be Pakistani soldiers are Sepoy Mehboob Ali of the Third Northern Light Infantry (NLI), Lance Naik Mir Baz Khan and Sepoy Safat Khan of Fourth NLI. The identity card of Mir Baz Khan has the number 2842285 inscribed.

The soldiers were killed within seven km of the LoC in Batalik sub-sector, Brig. Chopra said. Besides their identity cards, two rifles and a machine-gun, bearing marks of the Pakistan Ordnance Factory, were also recovered, he added.

The presentation packed in quite a lot of information. For example, the pay book of Mehboob Ali contained the name of his village Dahinet, post office Gupist and district Gilgit.

The army also obtained his birth certificate and the additional information that his captain in the Third Northern Light Infantry had given him permission to take a few days? casual leave in December-January 1998-99.

From Mir Baz Khan?s jackets, a prayer book in Arabic has been found, apart from his identity card, which includes the official seal of the Pakistan government.

His ?family allotment? records were also available. But there was no explanation what family allotment means. Safat Khan?s identity card was also displayed on the screen for the media.

It has taken over a week for the Indian authorities to finally provide corroborative proof. Foreign correspondents had begun to doubt India?s claims regarding the proxy war being fought by Pakistan. xBut it appeared that the Delhi presentation has gone down well with foreign correspondents. Some of them today asked the foreign ministry spokesperson why the western capitals were not responding more favourably to India?s assertion.    

Washington, June 5 
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif got a fresh warning from Washington today when the chairman of the House International Committee sent a sharp letter, bluntly instructing him to ??withdraw?? his military forces and end the current fighting.

??I am writing to express my alarm and regret over the recent Pakistan military action across the Line of Control in Kashmir. The insertion of a large Pakistan-supported military force across the LoC threatens the peace and stability of South Asia,?? wrote Benjamin Gilman, a veteran Congressman from New York. As chairman of the committee on international relations, he is the most senior House legislator on foreign policy issues.

??Pakistan has nothing to gain by permitting the fighting to continue and much to lose by prolonging the crises. I urge you to instruct Pakistan?s military forces to withdraw and to end its support for the current fighting,?? he said. The short, crisp letter should remove any doubt, if any still remains in Islamabad, about the US government?s reaction.

The June 4 letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Telegraph, attempts to remind Sharif of his far-sightedness spotted in the Lahore Declaration. ??It is discouraging that the current activity threatens to tarnish that well-deserved reputation,?? Chairman Gilman wrote. Pressure from Capitol Hill is likely to increase in the coming days because a few Congressmen are planning to urge the White House to publicly condemn Pakistani action in strong terms.

Gilmans?s letter, coming as it does after President Bill Clinton?s dispatch and secretary of state Madeleine Albright?s phone call, shows that no one in the policy making establishment in Washington believes Pakistan?s story on Kargil. Both the executive (the administration) and the legislative (House and the Senate) branches of the US government appear to be united in their response against the dangerous game being played by Islamabad.

The well-known friends of Pakistan ? Senator Tom Harkin and Senator Robert Toricelli ?who often move legislation to help Islamabad are particularly silent on the situation. People are watching in disbelief as Pakistan takes one dangerous policy decision after another.

Another translation of the reality could be read in terms of political party reaction. The Clinton administration is Democratic while the Congress is controlled by the Republicans and no sympathy is apparent in either party for Pakistani brinkmanship on the border. Within the administration, which includes various departments or ministries, the defence department is the strongest in its condemnation of Pakistani adventurism in internal discussions, according to US sources.

The defence department believes that this operation is being conducted by Pakistani military and intelligence agencies. One official familiar with the discussions said no one buys the Pakistani line on the fighters being ??indigenous?? or self-sustaining. The Pentagon may also have better intelligence information on the situation.

The state department is becoming more direct in its characterisation of the Kargil situation despite the inherent tendency to equate the two countries and the compulsion to appear equidistant.

James Rubin, the state department spokesman, went a step further yesterday when he referred to the fighters as ??infiltrators from Pakistan?? who were on India?s side of the LoC. Referring to reports from India saying the large numbers of Afghan and other infiltrators are waiting to cross, he issued a blanket warning against any such plan.

??The insertion of any additional fighters across the LoC would only increase tensions and prolong the fighting. We strongly reiterate our call for restraint and avoidance of a spread of fighting beyond the Kargil area,?? he said.

Indian officials wish the state department would move beyond the call for restraint in its public statements because that allows Pakistan to occupy the same moral ground even though it clearly has violated the LoC.    

First light has just about broken and the mountains are ringing with what is now their routine wakeup call: the report of shells being fired and shells landing. In an open field, a little below this barren plateau, two Bofors guns are noisily coughing lead and counterblast from across is peppering the surrounding hills, columns of smoke and dust cloud rising in the wispy morning. This is almost too beautiful to be a war.

At 13,400 feet, Humbotingla Pass is not only an excellently rarefied listening post, but also a breathtaking viewing gallery of the burgeoning artillery battle between Indian and Pakistani guns. But much more than that, desolate Humbotingla stands sentinel to two key frontiers in upper Kashmir: down to its south lies Kargil and to its north Batalik. If India does have a new Siachen on its hands, if it does have to maintain a winter presence in the high reaches, Humbotingla will claim a crucial place in military operations both as observation base and supply line to remote Batalik.

Over the last couple of days, artillery exchanges over Humbotingla have intensified, people are fleeing the surrounding village clusters of Chootumal, Barcha, Achkamal and Apati. Most, like those from Drass and Kargil, are seeking refuge in safer habitations on the road to Leh or in pockets like Mingee, south of Kargil.

?Nothing has hit us so far but shells have been landing all over the place. We cannot even venture out to our little farms,? said Nabi Ali, an elder from Chootumal, heading seven families out of his insecure village. The mushrooming of troops all around offer little solace to him. ?They are busy firing their guns and they keep mostly to themselves and they cannot prevent shells from across landing on us,? he says.

The vicinity of Humbotingla is, in fact, fast metamorphosing into a vast cantonment. As the local population trickles out, more and more troops and weapons pour in. Artillery units are dug deep in Apati and Chootumal, both vantage heights, and from the preparations afoot in these parts, the heavy Bofors gun appears set for being carted higher and closer to the front.

The guns fire round the clock, each doing up to a hundred rounds a day. ?It is a high rate of fire,? says a gunner at one of the artillery stations where they are busy cleaning two gun snouts under camouflage netting. ?If they fire all night, they must be oiled and cooled during the day.? The soldier himself is sleeping three hours a day. ?If we are lucky, we get three straight hours but of late, the shelling from the other side has been too frequent and we have had to give it back.?

The guns sprouting around Humbotingla are temporary battle stations at the moment. But as the extent of infiltration across the Line of Control becomes clearer ? Afghan mercenaries had come nearly 10 km across the LoC in some areas of the Batalik sector ? it is becoming apparent even to jawans that they may have to be here for good. ?So far the authorities have thought it fit that we only maintain a summer presence in the higher reaches,? says a senior officer. ?But this jolt will perhaps make them rethink their strategy. We cannot be losing these positions every winter and waging battle to take them back every summer.?

Already the jawan and the people he is protecting are paying a high price to recover lost ground. Key posts like Jubbar and Barjo in the Batalik sectors are still out of grasp; Afghan militants and Pakistani army regulars are reported to have massed behind these positions and are preventing any advance by Indian troops.

Totoling in the Drass sector, which infiltrators used to march as close as 2.5 km to National Highway 1A, has not been entirely secured. Manning these posts round the year will probably mean more than another Siachen in terms of manpower and money but that now looks like a fait accompli. Lonely Humbotingla can look forward to being more regularly inhabited than in past years.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky with possibility of light rain in some areas.
Temperature: Maximum 34.5?C (Normal)
Minimum 26.3?C (1?C below normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 90% Minimum 60%
Rainfall: 0.5mm
Sunset: 6.15 pm Sunrise: 4.55 am    

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