Stab at womb of Kashmir peace
Advani under attack
Clinton calls PM, to talk to Pakistan
Calcutta weather

Srinagar/Pahalgam, Aug. 2: 
In what must be the bloodiest night in Kashmir�s long and tragic plod through darkness, militants made concerted strikes at eight places in the Valley, killing 93 persons, shattering the morale of an already demoralised state government and jolting New Delhi�s peace initiative.

Last night�s mayhem was as much an act of wanton terror as a political message to those haltingly approaching the negotiating table that forces inimical to peace with New Delhi are alive and kicking in the Valley and will stop at nothing to bayonet prospects of normalcy.

Prime among the targets of the militants� missive is the Hizbul Mujahideen, which is in peril of being flung into irrelevance even before it takes the first step towards talks. �Our fear is that the Hizbul will either be frightened into a retreat or be rendered ineffectual in the Valley,� said a top official here.

Hizbul chief Syed Salahuddin, however, said in Islamabad that the group was determined to go ahead with peace talks as long as New Delhi showed sincerity. �Shortly, we will announce a timetable for India to agree to our demand for unconditional tripartite talks,� he added.

The official said: �There are obviously forces across the border that do not want a settlement here and they are powerful forces. They have shown what destruction they are capable of in a single night.�

While the government has identified the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba as the culprit of last night�s killing spree, more terrorist groups opposed to peace talks may have been involved in what was evidently a coordinated blitz.

The slaughter started with the Amarnath pilgrims� camp at Pahalgam where 33 people were gunned down by three terrorists late last evening, and leapfrogged across the Valley: 20 brick kiln labourers from Bihar and Madhya Pradesh at Mir Bazar near Qazi Gund in South Kashmir, seven more kiln workers in Achabal near Anantnag, five family members of a surrendered militant in Kupwara in North Kashmir, eight village defence committee members at Dachan in Doda, 11 villagers at Poghal, four villagers at Karahwan and five at Banihal, also in Doda.

Shaken, the state administration declared a state of special alert throughout Jammu and Kashmir after a meeting at the Raj Bhavan attended among others by Governor G.C. Saxena, chief minister Farooq Abdullah, police chief Gurbachan Jagat, 15 Corps Commander Lt Gen. J.R. Mukherji and CRPF boss Trinath Mishra.

The grim assembly at Raj Bhavan brought Pakistan directly in its line of fire and said last night�s incidents �clearly indicate the gameplan of the Pakistani ISI to derail the peace process and to prevent the return of normalcy�.

The responsibility for the Pahalgam carnage was pinned on Lashkar-e-Toiba; guns and ammunition recovered from the two militants killed during the 45-minute encounter along the picturesque Lidder river have Lashkar markings, according to the state police.

But government sources are not denying that various militant groups may have put their resources together to mount last night�s attacks. �Their stakes are high, they cannot let peace progress,� a state minister said. �They will do everything to make the Hizbul ceasefire a farce,� he added.

As much a farce as talk of normalcy in the Valley looked at Pahalgam this afternoon. Although the government claimed the Amarnath Yatra had been resumed, most pilgrims were busy packing up to escape home when this correspondent reached the campsite.

�The Yatra is over, over half way,� said one pilgrim. �Who will stay here after what happened yesterday? By tomorrow this place will be empty, only policemen will remain.�

Behind him, the vast city of tents was collapsing as family after family retreated. The tents made a lovely sight from afar, a splendid splash of colours on the meadow by the Lidder, but today, life was leaving it in a hurry.

The buses and minicabs out of Pahalgam were packed like sacks of potato. Army helicopters hovered overhead and armed platoons were taking position on the hills overlooking the campsite at Pahalgam but it was already too late.

Ashen clouds hung low and Pahalgam wore a funereal look well after curfew was lifted this morning. �It is all over, all over,� said a ponywallah, returning home a little distance from Pahalgam, �There were lots of yatris this time and a lot of work but it is all over in a flash.�    

New Delhi, Aug. 2: 
As the depth of Kashmir�s night of horror dawned on Parliament, friends and foes of the government united in asking one question: why hadn�t the home ministry anticipated the attacks?

Leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi mounted the verbal assault on home minister L.K. Advani, accusing him of �lowering the guard� even as the government had offered to talk with the Hizbul Mujahideen.

Drawing a parallel with the Kargil fiasco � which followed the Lahore peace drive � she said the Centre should have been prepared for attacks by foreign mercenary outfits. �It was expected that some of these groups will indulge in this act. Why did the government fail to ensure maximum security, particularly on the Amarnath route, which is a soft target?� she asked in the Lok Sabha.

Advani�s party colleague M.L. Khurana stepped up the offensive, saying the directive to security forces to stop operations in Hizbul-dominated areas had emboldened other terrorist groups. �We should not have told the forces to cease fire. The militants took advantage of that,� he said.

The floodgates opened after that as one after the other, the BJP�s allies spoke out. Shiv Sena�s Anant Geete and Trinamul Congress MP Nitish Sengupta lashed out at the government � of which their parties are a part � for its failure to gather intelligence. Telugu Desam leader V.V.S. Murthy joined them in the assault.

Advani put up a feeble defence, saying the security forces have been asked to be more vigilant. He added that the Centre�s fears of a spurt in violence following the ceasefire announcement have �come out right�.

�The government feels this latest outburst of violence is a determined bid by those upset at the prospects of peace to abort the initiative taken by the Hizbul Mujahideen last week,� Advani said. But, the minister asserted, Delhi will not back out of its efforts to bring back normality to the state.

He said the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba is suspected to have carried out the massacres.

The assault on Advani followed Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee�s statement on the killings, which, he said, were carried out by terrorist groups working at Pakistan�s behest. Attempts would be made to create hurdles in India�s endeavour for peace, but �we will overcome all these difficulties�, he said.    

New Delhi, Aug. 2 
President Bill Clinton today supported India�s peace efforts by condemning the killings in Kashmir and assured Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee that he would talk to the Pakistani leadership and ask them to use their influence to stop further bloodshed.

The Prime Minister�s Office quoted Clinton as saying: �He would speak to the leaders of Pakistan and do everything possible to contain such activities.�

During the 15-minute conversation, Clinton was informed by Vajpayee of the brutality of the massacres and how efforts were being made to segregate communities. Vajpayee said Delhi would go ahead with its efforts to bring the militant groups to the negotiating table despite attempts to derail the peace process.

The US President�s virtual admonition of Pakistan follows Washington�s repeated cautions to the military regime that it stop encouraging cross-border terrorism and create the atmosphere for resumption of talks in the spirit of the Lahore declaration.

Clinton expressed admiration for the BJP government�s �positive response� to the ceasefire offer of the Hizbul Mujahideen.

The telephone call from Washington came after a state department spokesman had already condemned the attack.

Earlier, speaking in Parliament, Vajpayee echoed the Indian establishment�s view that it was a desperate Pakistan, trying to draw the focus of the international community to the �volatile� situation in Kashmir, which was behind the brutal killing of the Amarnath pilgrims.

Pervez Musharraf denied the charge. He told the BBC: �We certainly condemn� the killings. He said the two countries should seize the �window of opportunity� provided by the Hizbul�s ceasefire offer for resuming talks.

Expressing the government�s determination not to be cowed down by these acts, Vajpayee told Parliament that the killings were �the handiwork of elements operating in the state either at the behest of Pakistan or getting direct instructions from it.�

Some foreign ministry experts saw a two-pronged Pakistani policy in which the military regime was trying to claim credit for the Hizbul decision to come to the negotiating table, while at the same time keeping the heat up on India to resume bilateral talks by covertly encouraging groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba.

Lashkar, however, has denied responsibility for the killings. �It is against the grain of our struggle. Our jehad is directed at the Indian Army only,� it said.    



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