Airstrikes to flush Kargil heights
Triple launch catapults Isro into space market
Sonia dynasty thrust draws BJP sneers
Super Two boost for Super Six
Calcutta weather

New Delhi & Srinagar, May 26 
India today launched precision airstrikes in the vulnerable Kargil sector to repulse Pakistan-backed infiltrators who had breached the Line of Control (LoC), and drew immediate flak from Islamabad which has threatened to hit back and sought UN intervention.

The daybreak strikes, carried out by Indian Air Force fighters and helicopter gunships, will continue till the infiltrators, heavily armed and said to number more than 2,000, have been beaten behind the LoC and the threat of the Kargil-Ladakh region being cut off from the rest of the country neutralised.

Srinagar airport has been closed for civilian operations and taken over by the defence forces. All military bases in the western sectors are on full alert and more troops are being airlifted as reinforcements to the besieged Kargil town. The Border Security Force (BSF) has been put on combat readiness all along the frontier in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir. It is likely that after a few initial rounds of airstrikes, ground troops will be pressed in for mop-up operations.

The first airstrikes were carried out in the upper reaches of Kargil, Drass and Batalik. More sorties were flown from the Srinagar airbase late afternoon to hit targets in Batalik and Mushkoh, where close to 700 armed infiltrators are believed to be encamped on ridges as high as 15,000-18,000 ft.

News of the strikes stunned Srinagar. Apprehension gripped the town. Business establishments remained shut and most residents kept their fingers crossed.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, who had protested the infiltration to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif yesterday, said the Indian forces were ?determined to wipe out the intrusion? and blamed Pakistan for reneging on the Lahore Declaration signed during his triumphant bus ride to Pakistan. Defence minister George Fernandes briefed President K.R. Narayanan, the Opposition parties and the ruling alliance on the strikes.

Blaming Pakistan for the infiltration, Air Commodore Subhash Bhojwani, director, offensive operations, said: ?This is the start of the operations and they will continue till our defence forces reoccupy our territory. Any escalation of this conflict will be entirely the responsibility of Pakistan?. He added that Indian defence forces had been ?fully authorised? to respond in case Pakistani forces interfere with operation pushback ?directly or indirectly?.

But even as New Delhi displayed ramrod determination to take the operation to the finish, it moved swiftly to shore up diplomatic support and contain any war hysteria. The foreign ministry briefed missions of key nations on the necessity of the airstrikes, underlining that India needed to protect its territorial integrity which had been ?grossly violated? by Pakistan-backed infiltrators.

A ministry spokesman also emphasised that the air operations were carried out ?well inside the LoC, not along the LoC or on the other side of the LoC?.

US ambassador to New Delhi Richard Celeste met Fernandes and was briefed at length on the imperatives of the airstrikes. Fernandes is believed to have argued along the lines articulated later by the ministry spokesman.

?Pakistan has a long record of supporting cross-border terrorism and the air operations had to be conducted to root out the infiltrators,? he said. ?They are not only supported directly by the Pakistan army, regulars are believed to be participating along with them,? he added.

The Clinton Administration has contacted both India and Pakistan at the ?highest levels? to express concern about the situation, urging both governments to prevent a wider conflict. UN secretary-general Kofi Annan also appealed for restraint.

Justifying the airstrikes, a defence spokesman said: ?If not contained at this stage, Pakistan would have been encouraged to extend its operations further. Delayed reaction would have called for a more severe action, possibly increasing the area and scope of operations. If the infiltration is not arrested, the alignment of the LoC could well be altered to our disadvantage.?

Pakistan dismissed Indian allegations that it was aiding armed infiltration and said it was ready to respond to the airstrikes. ?We have retaliated, we are retaliating and we will retaliate,? Pakistani foreign minister Sartaj Aziz said.

Though Pakistan has not yet complained of any violation of air space, military observers believe it could do so if it wanted an escalation on the frontier. Pakistani forces have been shelling Kargil for over a year now and last autumn almost cut off National Highway 1A, the only road link between the Kashmir Valley and the Ladakh-Kargil region. Since the snows in the upper reaches began to melt, Pakistani artillery have been providing fire cover to infiltrators.

Defence ministry spokesmen refused to give details of the sorties undertaken today. There were also no details of casualties during today?s airstrikes.

Pak bombing charge

Pakistan has said Indian jet fighters bombed occupied Kashmir three times. ?Pakistan armed forces reserves the right to respond,? said military spokesman Brigadier Rashid Quereshi. However, India denied the charge.    

May 26 
In 18 minutes of flawless flight, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle today shot three satellites into orbit and propelled India into the fiercely competitive global satellite launch market.

At an altitude of 730 km, the PSLV set free India?s Oceansat. Then with 50-second gaps, it released a German and Korean satellite, its piggyback passengers, the first foreign satellites launched from Indian soil.

?We are very happy with the launch,? said Sungheon Kim, a scientist with Korea?s Satellite Technology Research Centre who was part of the Korean delegation which witnessed the launch at Sriharikota island. ?We?re looking forward to more such cooperation,? Kim said. The Korean satellite weighed about 100 kg.

?It was a wonderful launch,? said German scientist Stefan Schulz from the technical university of Berlin. The 45-kg German satellite, Tubsat, launched by PSLV will serve as an orbiting camcorder in space.

The main passenger, India?s 1050-kg Oceansat, is a remote sensing satellite to study oceans. The two foreign satellites are microsatellites, carrying remote sensing and scientific payloads.

According to Isro headquarters, all the three satellites were delivered into space at 730 km orbit within 18 minutes of the lift off. But scientists are keeping their fingers crossed as the last time PSLV was launched in September 1998, the under-performance of its IV stage rocket booster had left the IRS-1D satellite in a lower orbit than planned.

Top Isro scientists said the triple satellite launch will help India pursue the global market for launches with more confidence. They hope it will now be able to exploit a bigger share of the $50 billion international space market.

Today?s commercial launch has fetched Isro around a million dollars which, officials say, represents a ?promotional price?. A 100-kg Belgian satellite is also booked for launch on a future flight of the PSLV.

India? primary rivals in the satellite launch market are likely to be China and Russia, both offering launches of small satellites at competitive prices.

This was the fifth flight of the PSLV, a 44-metre tall, four-stage rocket with a take-off weight of about 294 tonnes. The next PSLV flight will carry a satellite called Cartosat, exclusively intended for map-making.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and Isro chairman R. Kasturirangan were among those who witnessed the launch today. Congratulating scientists, Vajpayee said it was ?a proud day for Indian science?. ?In the global village we live in now, India must compete with other nations not just for investment but also in markets abroad,? he said.

?Space and oceans are the two new frontiers that mankind will explore extensively in the new century and millennium. We, in India, are determined not only to avail of these benefits for the welfare of all our citizens but also to participate actively in the exploration of the sky and the seas,? Vajpayee added.

Mike plays foul

India blasted into the global space market today, but on the ground even microphones failed to work.

As a result, Doordarshan viewers watching the live telecast of launch could not hear most of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee?s congratulatory speech.

The microphone failed when Isro chairman Kasturirangan rose to speak. The deafening silence persisted even as Vajpayee began his speech.

As embarrassed officials tinkered with the microphone under Vajpayee?s nose, it suddenly came alive, broadcasting the crosstalk of those desperately trying to repair the microphone along with the Prime Minister?s speech. Soon silence descended for a second time.    

New Delhi, May 26 
The BJP lashed out at Congress president Sonia Gandhi for her speech at the AICC conclave, saying: ?India is much larger than the dynasty to whose presumed right to rule she claims to be the sole inheritor?.

A statement issued jointly by BJP general secretaries K.N. Govindacharya and Narendra Modi said: ?India is far too sacred to be profaned by tying the nation?s fortunes to those of the ?dynasty?.?

Questioning Sonia Gandhi?s knowledge of Indian history, especially the freedom struggle and the contributions made by ?numerous men and women in the evolution of India into a modern nation state?, Govindacharya and Modi claimed her understanding ?begins with Jawaharlal Nehru and ends with Rajiv Gandhi?.

To buttress the point, the statement said: ?She refers to Indira Gandhi as the ?greatest daughter of India?, but does not refer to Rani Lakshmibai. Probably she has never heard the name of Matangini Hazra. Her India does not include Sri Aurobindo, Shahid Bhagat Singh, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Sardar Patel or Lokmanya Tilak. None of the numerous Congress workers who laid down their lives or suffered incarceration for India?s freedom from foreign rule are of relevance to her. Even Mahatma Gandhi?s contribution, for her is, not fit to be recalled.?

The statement also lashed out against Sonia Gandhi for ?loftily declaring that she is not hungry for power?. It accused her and the Congress of playing a ?leading role? in toppling the Vajpayee government and ?misleading? the President by claiming the support of 272 MPs when it actually had the support of 39 less.

Finally, Govindacharya and Modi said that had Sonia Gandhi been ?unmoved by the lure of office?, she would not have shied away from answering the points raised by expelled leaders Sharad Pawar, P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar. ?Instead, she had them sacked from the party,? they said.

n Pawar ranks swell: Sacked Shiv Sena leaders Gulab Rao Gawande and Suresh Nawle, who had floated a new outfit, Janshakti, have decided to extend support to expelled Congress leader Sharad Pawar.

In Panaji, the Goa Youth Congress Committee appealed to Sonia Gandhi to revoke the expulsion of Pawar, P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar ?to uphold the Congress tradition of tolerance and freedom of expression?.    

Taunton, May 26 
Lunch for Sourav Ganguly was a brief affair: The quick reaching for napkins was understandable, as he?d just feasted on the Sri Lankan attack.

That made for terrific viewing and helping make an absolutely Indian day was Rahul Dravid, Sourav?s dearest buddy in the team. Indeed, at the County Ground, it was a morning for personal and collective landmarks.

The duo placed India right in front, doing the spadework for a massive 157-run win. More important, with two victories on-the-trot and a handsome net run rate, India?s World Cup Super Six hopes have appreciably brightened.

Holders Sri Lanka, on the other hand, must prepare for an early departure home. ?Terrible bowling, a terrible day,? is how captain Arjuna Ranatunga described the huge loss. Yet, he remembered to give the Indians credit.

As for Mohammed Azharuddin, he?s never looked so relaxed for months now and savoured every moment of a truly ?big? win. Definitely felt good being an Indian in Taunton this evening.

Taking the cue from Sourav and Dravid, Robin Singh ? who played only because Nayan Mongia was unfit ? pocketed some of the limelight with five wickets as Lanka crashed to 216, chasing India?s 373 for six.

Sourav, in fact, was set to author the highest-ever individual score (bettering Saeed Anwar?s 194), but his teammates? rather cavalier approach, at the fag end, saw him stop at 183, the fourth-highest in three decades of one-day cricket.

?I dedicate this knock to the team,? was the one comment Sourav made before the second session began. Later, after bagging another MoM award, he said grinning: ?Yes, I seem to do well in England, but still, I?ll keep fingers crossed... We should beat England as well (on Saturday).? Sourav, however, insisted he had ?no regrets? on not getting past Anwar and, possibly, touching 200. He assessed his (?best?) innings thus: ?Look, you don?t wake up thinking you?ll get 183 or whatever. It happens. What?s important, though, is to not give it away when well set.?

Dravid also recorded a career-best 145, his second hundred in as many games, and the duo?s 318-run second-wicket partnership busted every record. It ensured India would finish with the second-highest total of all time.

Till recently, most of the selectors considered Dravid a quality player in Tests only. But for the umpteenth time this year ? beginning with New Zealand ? Dravid proved them wrong. One Kishan Rungta, in particular, must be turning red in the face.

It?s significant that Dravid was quicker to both the fifty and hundred-mark and it?s his scorching pace that helped India shake off early innings blues. Sourav went ?ahead? much later.

?It definitely helped that we understand each other well... We?d aimed to see out the first ten overs or so and then go for the runs... We set targets, but kept revising them,? pointed out Dravid, smiling as usual.

For Lanka, it was total humiliation as fours and sixes came in a flood when it?s only in the second half of their partnership that Sourav and Dravid really took chances. For most of their stay, it was classical stuff on a ground that has seen icons cause havoc. Today, the last ten overs produced as many as 128 runs.

That Lanka were really in the pits, after winning the toss, became evident when even the ever-dependable Roshan Mahanama muffed a catch. Others joined in too and Trevor Chappell, the fielding coach/consultant, would probably have stopped watching.

Unbelievably, Sachin Tendulkar?s contribution was just two ? he only came to bat in the 47th over and top priority was to give Sourav the strike. A gesture which matched Sourav?s emotional hugging of Dravid after he was run out.

Initially, of course, sections of the huge turnout were uncharitable: ?Come on, retire, we want Sachin.? Later, though, as Sourav and Dravid sparkled, they were happy rooting for the two gems.

?If I can be a little brutal, it was time somebody else played a real big hand besides Sachin. Certainly augurs well as there?ll be less pressure on him. Believe me, with less pressure, Sachin will be even better,? Sir Viv Richards told The Telegraph.

Sir Viv opined though Sourav had bettered Kapil Dev?s unbeaten 175, that 1983 World Cup innings would remain in a class of its own. ?Because of the circumstances, more than anything else.? Perhaps realising he?d made an utterly cold assessment, the legend quickly added: ?As an effort, it?s been tremendous. Lanka didn?t handle the pressure well, but all credit to the two youngsters.? Having been accustomed to smashing the opposition, it sure was a bit unusual for Sir Viv to see others do it.

Three years ago, Sourav and Dravid enthralled England with superb performances at Lord?s. That was in the sport?s conventional form. They?ve again caught everyone?s attention. ?Great lads, both? was a common sentiment, be it at the Club House, the terraces... Everywhere.

Ironically, it?s the Lankans who?re credited with the No.1 total (398 for five), who?ve ended up conceding the maximum runs. Cricket and the World Cup remain ruthless levellers.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of thundershower towards afternoon or evening. Not much change in day temperature.

Temperature:Maximum 34.1?C (1?C below normal)
Minimum 27.3?C (Normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 95%
Minimum 66%

Rainfall: 4.7 mm

Sunset: 6.12 pm

Sunrise: 4.55 am

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