Talks-eager Pakistan clears war cloud
Duo lobs India into Grand Slam orbit
Safe passage key not in India hand
Congress wins Goa, BJP makes inroads
Enemy within picks blind spots
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, June 6 
Rapped on the knuckles by the US, Islamabad today hurriedly backtracked on its stand that the offensive in Kargil was leading fast to a situation where India and Pakistan may have to fight another war. It also expressed willingness to scale down tension along the border through negotiations.

However, Pakistan sought to put pressure back on India by accusing New Delhi of dragging its feet over the dates of the foreign minister-level dialogue. India, still not certain whether Islamabad is only talking of sending Sartaj Aziz over to score diplomatic points, is yet to indicate the dates.

?We are both disappointed and concerned over this postponement. Dialogue is the only way to reduce tension on the Line of Control,? Aziz told the state-run television tonight.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was quoted yesterday as saying he did not rule out the possibility of war between India and Pakistan. Today, his information minister Mushahid Hussain denied the reports, saying Sharif?s remarks were ?twisted out of context?.

Though relieved at the denial, India officially said Islamabad?s contradictory signals were creating confusion in New Delhi. Privately, South Block feels the turnaround in Pakistan?s stand may be due to pressure from Washington. But they also did not rule out the possibility of Sharif being deliberately misquoted.

This was another indication that some forces in Pakistan want to keep up the tension along the LoC to retain international attention, the officials said.

Since the intrusion in Kargil became the focal point of South Asia, the US and the West have been trying to impress upon both India and Pakistan that they should desist from any action which can increase tension. Delhi, however, has an edge over Islamabad, as key members of the international community have shown an inclination to go by the Indian side of the story: more countries are convinced the present tension is due to Pakistan sending the intruders over.

The Indian foreign ministry spokesman, referring to Sharif?s reported remarks on the possibility of war, said Delhi did not share Islamabad?s views. He added that what happened in Kargil amounted to ?aggression?.

Pakistan today said it had received the bodies of three soldiers from Indian officials yesterday. However, denying the three soldiers had any role in the Kargil infiltration, Pakistan said they were killed inside its territory in an Indian ambush.

Scoffing at the Pakistani claims, the Indian foreign ministry spokesman said: ?You can make out they beg a belief.?

The flurry of claims, counter-claims and hasty ?clarifications? has lent credence to charges that both sides are playing to the their domestic galleries.

If India illustrated this through the controversy over safe passage, Pakistan has done it through the reported remarks on the possibility of war. Sharif probably wanted to tell his people that Islamabad was in no mood to be on the defensive in the face of Delhi?s tough stand on talks with Aziz.

The possibility of Sharif?s remarks being twisted cannot be ruled out either ? especially in the light of the view that the intruders were sent to Kargil on the initiative of a section of the Pakistan army. The hardliners would have gained if an impression was created that negotiations are futile.

Sharif?s media managers today gave details to show how he was misquoted, saying he had stated that Pakistan does not want the current situation to develop into a full-scale war.

Army set for pushback

Amid the diplomatic shadow boxing, the Indian army today gave finishing touches to a major offensive near Drass and adjoining areas. Some reports indicated that an onslaught has already been launched at the Tiger Hill point in Drass.

The air strikes resumed today, but the army seemed to be waiting for a green signal from Delhi to mount a full-fledged flushout operation.    

Calcutta, June 6 
It was an explosion waiting to happen. More definitely than Azhar setting the Thames on fire.

So when the moment arrived a few minutes after noon at Roland Garros in Paris today, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi exchanged a blank look before embracing each other. A sense of relief, more than anything else, had engulfed India?s first ?pure? Grand Slam winners.

?The one thing which registered initially was ?oh, finally we?ve done it?,? Paes said when The Telegraph caught him on his mobile an hour after the historic 6-2, 7-5 French Open doubles victory over Goran Ivanisevic and Jeff Tarango. ?We?ve waited for this a long, long while, so it?s extremely satisfying.?

Recalling five previous failed attempts at breaking the Grand Slam barrier, Paes said losing in the semis four times and in the final once had really hurt. ?People had started calling us chokers. We needed to win this one badly,? he said, adding that he hadn?t spent a sleepless night after rain had postponed the final last evening with the scoreboard showing 6-2, 5-5.

?I was confident we?ll come through as we were both performing well. That the match was being telecast live back home egged us on, even though we were playing in front of near-empty stands,? said Paes, who had girlfriend Vicky Lavee and father Vece Paes to share the moment with.

Tested severely by a couple of unheralded pairs in the early rounds, the Indians turned on the heat third round onwards. ?Once we beat fourth seeds Rick Leach and Ellis Ferreira in the quarter final, we knew we had a great chance of winning the title,? remarked Paes.

Refusing to rate this triumph as achievement number one in a glittering career, he noted that the 1993 Davis Cup triumph over France in Frejus and the 1996 Atlanta Olympic bronze occupied pride of place.

?This one?s significant because I always wanted to win a Grand Slam with an Indian. Today, that dream has been fulfilled,? said Paes who, three years ago, defied his father?s wish to team up with Bhupathi despite being a much higher-ranked player at that point of time.

Getting sentimental, he said the sacrifices he made to get their team on a firm footing have finally paid off. ?I remember the days when we started from scratch and had to play in insignificant tournaments to improve our ranking. People had laughed when I stated three years ago that Mahesh and I could one day win a Grand Slam. I?m glad I could prove them wrong,? Paes said.

?There?s hardly any time to celebrate... Dozens of calls in the locker-room, press and TV interviews, and now a big rush to catch a flight,? Paes observed, explaining that the star pair?s next tournament ? the Queen?s Club championship ? was beginning in London tomorrow.

For Bhupathi, who had coach Enrico Piperno cheering from the stands, the victory hadn?t sunk in even after he had checked into his flat in London. ?Winning the mixed doubles here two years ago was sweet, but this one?s really special. It?s taken a year and a half for me and Leander to win a major trophy, but it?s been worth the wait.?

The mixed doubles triumph in 1997 gave Bhupathi the tag of ?India?s first ever Grand Slam winner.? But there was an element of hollowness ? it was achieved with the help of a Japanese partner (Rika Hiraki). This one?s totally pure.    

New Delhi, June 6 
Call it by any other name, but the fact remains that India continues to be committed to the idea of ?safe passage? for the infiltrators in Kargil.

Foreign secretary K. Raghunath has added a new dimension to the controversy started by defence minister George Fernandes by saying that it is incumbent upon India to let the intruders ?withdraw?, should Islamabad make an offer to end its aggression.

Raghunath told a select group of ambassadors during the weekend that under international law, when a country which has committed aggression offers to end hostilities and pull back, the state which is the victim of aggression is required to accept such an offer.

Several envoys present at the briefing concurred with the foreign secretary?s interpretation of international law.

Raghunath?s assertion, on record before the international community, means that though a spokesman of the ministry of external affairs had last week disowned statements attributed to Fernandes and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on safe passage, the controversy will not be put to rest.

This is the second time that Raghunath has spoken of safe passage to foreign envoys since the Kargil conflict began.

On May 28, at a meeting with the European Union?s ?troika? of ambassadors, he made it clear that if Pakistan was willing to pull the intruders out of Indian territory, New Delhi would be happy to let them go. The ?troika? is made up of the EU?s current presidency, the next presidency and the EU envoy.

On both occasions, he did not use the term ?safe passage?, but at the second briefing, he was more forthright and made it clear that India?s options may be limited if Pakistan was to offer to end its action in crossing the Line of Control (LoC).

The foreign secretary?s views on safe passage may hold the key to the procrastination by South Block in deciding the date for a visit by Pakistan foreign minister Sartaj Aziz.

In fact, Raghunath told the envoys that Pakistan?s offer to send Aziz was ?99 per cent? propaganda. He said as far as he could see, there was little to discuss with the Pakistani minister.

For the envoys who attended the briefing, however, the most puzzling aspect of Raghunath?s remarks was the sneaking admiration he displayed for the way the Pakistanis had planned and executed the Kargil operations.

Despite being the ?enemy?, the foreign secretary grudgingly conceded that Kargil was an operation which nearly succeeded in undermining India?s vital security interests along the LoC.

Raghunath also made the crucial point that if Pakistan was willing to make amends for its actions, the political leadership here would be quite willing to go back to the Lahore process as quickly as possible.    

June 6 
The Congress today sneaked past the majority mark in Goa but could not stop the BJP from pulling off an impressive show in the Christian majority state.

While the Congress won 21 seats in the 40-member Assembly, the BJP clawed its way to the double-digit sphere, squeezing out smaller parties like the Maharashtra Gomantak Party (MGP), the United Goan Democratic Party (UGDP) and the Goa Rajiv Congress.

While the Congress added five seats to its earlier tally of 16, the BJP moved up from three to 10. The MGP?s tally came down from 11 to four.

Before the 1998 polls, the BJP had no political visibility in Goa and had piggybacked the MGP to mop up three seats. Since then, the state BJP has been carefully nurturing Goa?s Hindu population, defying Delhi?s diktat for an alliance with the MGP.

Congress state chief Luzinho Faleiro, who won from Navelim constituency, said the people have ?backed the Congress with Sonia Gandhi as their leader?. In Delhi, Sonia Gandhi hailed the election victory and said the party would fulfil its promises.

The Congress had formed a government with the UGDP?s support after the last elections, but lost power after a split. Though it regained power with a fresh configuration, the arrangement did not last long, making polls inevitable in the state that has seen 10 governments in as many years.    

Kargil, June 6 
Pakistani artillery shells today blew up an oil tanker and narrowly missed hitting a passenger-laden civilian vehicle on the Drass-Kargil highway, even as an exasperated army expressed concern to the local administration over continuing information leaks across the border on gun positions.

The tanker was hit on the vulnerable Kaksar-Kharbu stretch of National Highway 1A, which is known to be visible to Pakistani gunners perched on overhanging peaks. Artillery guns rained shells on the tanker convoy, carrying oil supplies for army depots in the Kargil and Batalik sectors, for more than an hour before scoring a hit.

A taxi evacuating refugees from Kaksar to Kargil was brushed by a flying shell. The vehicle lost its rear windshield but nobody was injured.

After yesterday?s relative lull, artillery exchanges spiralled to a new pitch in Drass and Kargil. The army temporarily sealed off the Kargil-Drass road because of the heavy fire but opened it later in the afternoon, essentially to allow infantry convoys to pass through to Batalik.

In Kargil, two shells landed close to the dak bungalow where some senior government officials from New Delhi are currently stationed. The shells caused minimal damage but the sustained targeting of the dak bungalow and other key installations, such as the television tower and the district administration?s headquarters, has strengthened apprehensions that consistent help is reaching Pakistani gunners in correcting their firing line and hitting targets more accurately.

The army brass here are particularly enraged because they believe details of their gun positions are filtering across the frontier unchecked.

?Some of our gun positions are very new. But the way they too are being targeted, we feel information about the location has gone out,? a senior army officer said.

He held espionage responsible for the shelling of their main ammunition dump at Titichomik, east of Kargil, last month. The army is said to have lost crores-worth of ammunition in the strike.

The civilian administration admits there could be leaks to the Pakistani side from agents based in Kargil or hereabouts, but so far they have been unable to scent a track. Last October, two Pakistani agents had been caught passing information on Indian gun positions on an international line from a public booth in Kargil.

But this time, officials say, Pakistani informers may be using more sophisticated communication equipment, like a powerful cordless transmitter or even a roving satellite phone. Police officials say it is possible to track both. But so far they have made no headway.

They indicated that a fresh drive may be on to frisk the local administration for any moles. But the army seems to be fast losing patience with them. ?Our boys are getting hit everyday because of intelligence lapses. We have been repeatedly saying these leaks must be plugged because it is affecting operations. But we see no action being taken,? complained a senior army officer.

The shelling of Kargil continued through the afternoon and well into the evening, though no major damage or casualties were reported. Most of the town is empty and even the civilian administration has moved to safer quarters in nearby villages.

But of concern to the authorities here is that Mingee village, so far considered secure from shelling, was also hit today. About 10 miles south of Kargil, Mingee is currently home to refugees from the villages of Drass and shelling there could spark off panic and another exodus further up into the villages of the Suroo valley.

The shells did not hit Mingee, but the authorities suspect the Pakistani artillery is now aware of the dense population there and may target it more closely.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of development of thunderclouds towards afternoon or evening.
Temperature: Maximum 36.6?C (2?C above normal)
Minimum 27.5?C (normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 92% Minimum 47%
Rainfall: Nil
Sunset: 6.16 pm Sunrise: 4.55 am    

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