Pak fires Stinger in tit-for-tat attack
Generals trade shoot-down fire
Once bitten, twice shy: Delhi
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Aug. 11 
Pakistan fired a Stinger missile at an Indian Air Force helicopter carrying journalists to the crash site of the intruder Atlantique plane on a day when defence forces on both sides of the strained border were put on red alert.

The Indian chopper returned safely to the Naliya airbase in south Gujarat, but the incident heightened military and diplomatic tension between the nuclear neighbours.

Pakistan?s military spokesman Brig. Rashid Quereshi denied the missile attack on the helicopter carrying journalists, but said his forces fired on two MiG-21s escorting choppers near the crash site. ??It was clear that the Indians were picking up small pieces of wreckage in Pakistan and taking them back to Delhi to fool the world that the aircraft crashed in their area,?? he said.

Brig. Quereshi said a surface-to-air missile was fired, but gave no further details.

Delhi scoffed at Pakistan?s claim. An air force spokesman said it would not have been possible for the Indians to salvage any part of the wreckage if the aircraft was lying on the Pakistani side. He admitted, however, that some parts of the plane may have landed across the border as it was travelling at around 600 km per hour.

Amid intense air activity along the frontier, the navies of the two countries were stretched in the Arabian Sea. Radars on both sides were trying to locate every movement in the vicinity of the international border.

With wreckage of the Atlantique strewn on either side of the border near the Rann of Kutch, both countries stepped up efforts to score diplomatic points. The Pakistanis, who had pipped the Indians yesterday by carrying a Reuters crew to the spot, were outsmarted today. India flew 40 journalists to the crash site in three choppers.

But the journalists had to leave the area without a proper look. A flash from the western side of the border and plumes of smoke frightened the chopper pilots, who were responsible for the safety of the journalists, and they flew back without a clear sight of the debris strewn across the marshy terrain close to Kori Creek.

Throughout the day, the rumour mills worked overtime and the directorate-general of military operations in Delhi was flooded with requests for confirmation of hearsay. The buzz was that the air force, still seething from losing two fighter jets and an Mi-17 helicopter during the Kargil war, had grabbed the opportunity provided by the straying Pakistani plane.

The air force, however, denied it had been overzealous in guarding its boundaries and had not flashed the necessary warning signals before shooting down the Atlantique. Spokesman Group Captain D.N. Ganesh reiterated that after refusing to be escorted out of Indian territory, the Pakistani aircraft was asked to land at a base in Gujarat but it refused.

Afraid of losing the diplomatic points it won during the Kargil conflict, Delhi went into an overdrive to justify the downing of the aircraft. Parts of the Atlantique?s wreckage, including identity cards of the Pakistani airmen on board, were on display at the Prime Minister?s Office.

What has raised eyebrows is the lack of evidence that airmen died in the clash. Neither side has been able to produce bodies of the crew. Pakistan says 16 people were on board the plane.

The documents recovered include a flight manual for Pakistani navy pilots and the checklist of the aircraft besides personal documents of Syed Sarasat of 29 Air-Borne Surveillance Warning Squadron. Other parts salvaged include a wing, cable, hydraulic system and cockpit of the aircraft besides a parachute and an inflatable dinghy.

After an emergency session of the Cabinet Committee on Security, the Prime Minister summoned a meeting of Opposition leaders, including Sonia Gandhi.

While the borders were taut, in Jammu and Kashmir, militants blew up an army vehicle in yet another daring raid and shot dead four BSF personnel. The conflict continued in Siachen as troops foiled attempts by Pakistani soldiers to wrest two positions.    

New Delhi, Aug. 11 
Pakistani director-general of military operations Lt Gen. Tauqir Zia has warned his Indian counterpart that all Indian aircraft and helicopters violating Pakistani airspace even by an inch will be shot down.

Indian DGMO Lt Gen N.C. Vij, however, retorted that Pakistani aircraft had been regularly violating Indian airspace but had been let off.

Lt Gen. Zia is believed to have cited several instances in which Indian aircraft were spared after they were found to have violated Pakistani airspace. He added that due warnings were given to the pilots.

The Pakistani DGMO is learnt to have made a pointed reference to an Indian helicopter, carrying a minister, which was spotted by Pakistan Air Force radars after it strayed close to Muzaffarabad in PoK during the Kargil conflict. The chopper was warned, after which it headed back to India.

Implicit in Lt Gen. Zia?s threat is the message that Pakistani ground troops and air force will take immediate action without warning if Indian aircraft wilfully or inadvertently violate Pakistani airspace.

The threat, issued yesterday, is in consonance with Pakistan foreign minister Sartaj Aziz?s statement that Islamabad reserved the right to make an ?appropriate response? in self-defence.

Lt Gen. Zia warned Lt Gen. Vij during discussions over the hotline after a Pakistan anti-submarine Atlantique aircraft was brought down by two MiG-21s reportedly over Indian airspace over the Rann of Kutch.

Lt Gen. Vij is believed to have conveyed verbatim to the government the discussion he had with his Pakistani counterpart. The government is taking a grim view of a possible air war over Gujarat, Rajasthan and Punjab where all Indian Air Force bases and ground troops have been put on maximum alert after the mid-air shoot-down.

Beginning with the usual exchange of ?pleasantries?, the discussion over the hotline soon developed into a serious debate over whether the Pakistani aircraft had actually strayed into Indian airspace necessitating firing of missiles at it.

Lt Gen. Vij gave a factual account of the incident, and conveyed his and the government?s ?serious objection? to the nature of the Atlantique?s mission.

Highly-placed sources said the Pakistani DGMO told Lt Gen. Vij that Islamabad ?had not expected? India to take such a drastic step. They said the Atlantique could well have been allowed to return to Pakistani airspace.

This reaction implies that the aircraft ?had knowingly violated our airspace? and ?was on a specific mission?, they added. Indian authorities are still trying to ascertain what the mission was.    

New Delhi, Aug. 11 
Keen to outflank Pakistan?s efforts for international mediation on the subcontinent, India today stepped up diplomatic efforts to emphasise that yesterday?s incident over the Rann of Kutch was entirely the result of ?Pakistani provocation?.

The foreign office was at pains to stress today that the Indian Air Force had been compelled to strike the Pakistani Atlantique reconnaissance aircraft because it had ?strayed deep into Indian territory with hostile intentions?. The foreign office added that the intruder aircraft had ?combat capability? and Indian forces could not take any ?undue risks? after the Kargil experience.

Aware that international pressure to resume dialogue with Pakistan is likely to mount, Delhi today went on a diplomatic offensive. ?This provocative action by the Pakistani military aircraft was in line with a pattern of such hostile surveillance activities in this sensitive area,? Indian foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said while referring to the incident.

He made it clear that the responsibility for what happened was Pakistan?s. The arguments and justification for shooting down the aircraft was communicated to world leaders by Indian ambassadors and foreign ministry officials.

?Surveillance activity by a military aircraft in another country?s airspace is a hostile activity. It is a well-known fact that apart from its primary capability of reconnaissance and surveillance, the Atlantique aircraft is capable of carrying an array of lethal weapons and stores, including air-to-surface missiles and bombs,? Jassal said.

Asked whether the intruding aircraft was equipped with any lethal weapons, the spokesman said: ?After it ignored all warnings and signals to land, we could not take a chance and find out whether or not it did carry these weapons. Its hostile intentions were clear and we had to shoot it down.?

Officials claimed that the intruding aircraft was hit well within Indian airspace and had crashed inside Indian territory. However, they explained that it was not unusual that pieces of the wreckage would fall in Pakistan because the aircraft was flying at an altitude of over 5,000 ft and at a great speed.

India had the international community on its side during the Kargil conflict. World leaders felt that Pakistan was at fault since it tried to unilaterally alter the LoC by initiating the armed intrusion.

The Indian leadership is trying to strengthen its argument by focusing on Pakistan?s intrusion on Indian airspace in violation of an agreement signed by the two sides in 1991.

According to this arrangement, a military combat aircraft is not to fly within 10 km of each other?s airspace.

?The Pakistani military aircraft had intruded deep into Indian airspace. Every opportunity was given to the intruding aircraft to correct its course and land. It disregarded all warnings and signals to land,? Jassal said. He pointed out that the Indian Air Force, under well-known operating procedures, was ?constrained to engage this aircraft and shoot it down.?    

Today?s forecast: One or two showers and thundershowers

Temperature: Maximum 33.3?C (1?C above normal)
Minimum 27.6?C (2?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 91%
Minimum 66%

Rainfall: Nil

Sunset: 6.09 pm
Sunrise: 5.14 am

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