Pak shoots down two fighters
Prisoner of war tag on pilot
Sourav silences team-spirit snipers
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, May 27 
Tension spiralled on the battle-torn North Kashmir frontier today as Pakistani forces shot down two Indian fighter aircraft, killing one of the pilots and capturing another.

Islamabad alleged that the Indian fighters ? a MiG 27 and a MiG 21 ? had violated Pakistani airspace and sought to strengthen its case for UN intervention, saying India?s ?belligerent mood posed a serious threat to peace and stability in South Asia?.

But New Delhi stiffly countered Pakistani claims of airspace violation and said the downing of the fighters was a ?hostile and provocative? act. ?It is clear the other side has escalated tensions. We will take appropriate action,? Air Vice-Marshal S.K. Malik said this afternoon.

Malik asserted there was ?no question? of the MiGs violating Pakistani airspace and said: ?We are a mature air force. Our aircraft have been operating well within the Line of Control (LoC).?

At the same time, the government amplified its allegation that the Pakistani army was directly involved in the infiltration, saying: ?This is a well-planned operation by the Pakistani army. Apart from giving armed and logistical support, Pakistani troops in disguise are actively involved in the infiltration bid.?

The defence ministry also asserted the air operations against the infiltrators will continue till they have been flushed out. Two rounds of airstrikes were carried out this morning and the government claimed success in both. ?Intruders have been almost completely dislodged from two posts in the Drass sector and have been effectively engaged in Batalik where one height has been cleared,? the defence ministry said.

The strikes are being conducted by MiG 21, MiG 27 and Mirage 2000 bombers flying out of various airbases in the Western Sector. The Srinagar airbase remains the core of operations.

But while it expressed its military determination to take Operation Vijay to its conclusion, the government refrained from any sabre-rattling at the political level and played down possibilities of a full-scale war. Even as it fights off intruders, New Delhi is keen to address mounting international concern on escalation of hostilities between the subcontinental nuclear powers.

In Washington, US assistant secretary of state Karl Inderfurth was scheduled to meet Indian and Pakistani ambassadors to appeal for restraint, the state department said. US ambassador to India Richard Celeste today met home minister L .K. Advani and hoped both India and Pakistan would get back on the Lahore track.

Senator Sam Brownback, who was scheduled to move a Bill to suspend nuclear-linked sanctions on India and Pakistan, confirmed he has dropped the move.

Russia defended India?s action, while the UN remained non-committal on Pakistan?s appeal for intervention.

In New Delhi, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) met to discuss measures post the shooting down of the IAF fighters. Later, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee chaired a high-level meeting of defence minister George Fernandes, Advani and the three service chiefs at his residence. Vajpayee also briefed President K.R. Narayanan. The Prime Minister will meet leaders of political parties on Saturday on the issue.

Fernandes allayed fears of war and reiterated that the action by Indian forces was ?well within the LoC and in pursuance of protecting the country?s territorial integrity?. Sources said that although the Indian political establishment sought no escalation of tension, it was firm on pushing back the intruders in the current phase of operations.

Opposition parties, including the Congress and the Left, have rallied behind the government on the strikes and said no effort should be spared to protect India?s territorial integrity.

A sombre Air Vice-Marshal Malik refused to confirm or deny Pakistani claims that the wreckage of the aircraft had been found in Pakistani territory and that one of the pilots had been taken prisoner. ?We are trying to gather information on the details. We have no information so far,? Malik said. According to him, the MiG 21 aircraft developed engine trouble while on a sortie and sought help.

?We have had mechanical problems with MiG 21s before and this aircraft was rapidly losing height. A MiG 27 went out to help the pilot. While trying to spot the troubled aircraft, he was shot by a Pakistani missile. Our attempts to pick up the pilots are on,? Malik said. However, he clarified later that it was the MiG 27 which had developed the snag and the MiG 21 tried to rescue the pilot.

However, Islamabad said the pilot of the MiG 21 was killed and that of the MiG 27 captured. (An AP report quoted an Indian army officer as saying Pakistan used the US-made Stinger missile to bring down the plane.)

Malik said the Indian Air Force was taking ?suitable precautions? to provide better cover to aircraft conducting sorties.

The Indian defence spokesmen ? deputy director-general, military operations, Brigadier Mohan Bhandari also briefed the press ? had no convincing replies to how the wreckage of one of the aircraft had been found on the Pakistani side.

Maintaining that both pilots had ejected, the defence spokesmen said: ?We do not know the location of the crash yet. To our knowledge, they did not cross the LoC but it is possible for an aircraft in trouble to stray a few miles in air.?

Operation Vijay, the defence spokesmen said, had entered a new phase with the intruders on the run. ?We have intelligence reports that another batch of about 400 intruders is standing by to infiltrate in Gilgit and there is considerable logistical support activity on the other side. But we are confident our operations will neutralise their moves,? Brigadier Bhandari said. Earlier in the day, a defence spokesman had said that though there had been no let-up in Pakistani artillery fire, no ?provocative? troop movements had been observed on the other side.

Bhandari reported three soldiers killed and seven wounded on the Indian side in today?s action.

Brajesh Mishra, national security adviser, said on Thursday night the operations ?will not escalate into a war?. Mishra told STAR News there was no need for any panic in the present situation.    

Islamabad, May 27 
Pakistan today claimed an Indian Air Force officer was killed and another taken captive after it shot down two fighter jets.

It identified the dead officer as Squadron Leader A. Ahuja and the captured pilot as Flight Lieutenant Nachiketa.

Islamabad said it would treat Flt-Lt Nachiketa as a prisoner of war, but would return the body of Sq. Ldr Ahuja to India.

A Pakistani spokesman, Brigadier Abdul Rashid, said the first aircraft was shot down at 11.15 am and the second at 11.35 am in the Indus sector of Kashmir.

Sq. Ldr Ahuja of the 17th Squadron was piloting a MiG 21 aircraft, while Flt-Lt Nachiketa was flying a MiG 27 fighter.

The planes were shot down by ground fire, military officials here said.

Without referring to the border flare-up, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that as a nuclear power, Pakistan ?can meet any threat on equal terms?.

?They (the Pakistan nation) feel confident for the first time in their history that in the eventuality of an armed attack, they will be able to meet it on equal terms,? Sharif said in an address on the eve of the first anniversary of Pakistan?s nuclear tests.

Pakistan information minister Mushahid Hussain struck a hard posture and said the air hits were necessary because Indian fighters violated airspace.

?These planes were 6-7 miles within Pakistani Kashmir and we had to hit them. The Indian government seems to want an escalation because of its failures on the domestic front and its failure to contain a popular uprising in Kashmir,? he said.

A team of television journalists has been taken to the wreckage site on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control.

Islamabad called on UN secretary-general Kofi Annan to send a special envoy to Kashmir to defuse tension. He said if UN can ?act? in Kosovo, it must also respond to solve the Kashmir issue.

Asked whether Pakistan had ignored the restraint call from Russia, US and Britain, Hussain said: ?Such calls for restraint should be directed straight to India because it is they who are in a belligerent mood?.

?It seems there is an effort to occupy positions on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control,? an army spokesman said. He claimed Indian soldiers had suffered heavy casualties.

Hussain claimed Pakistan was committed to peace, but would not speculate whether the downing of jets could lead to an all-out war. ?It depends on the Indian leadership and how they tackle the situation,? he said. ?If Vajpayee is sincere, he should start talks immediately.?

Foreign minister Sartaj Aziz claimed Islamabad knew nothing about the infiltrators in Kargil. ?No one knows where they come from and who they are,? he said.

A Pakistan-backed militant outfit, which claimed responsibility for infiltrating Kargil, said the airstrikes have had little impact. ?The Mujahideens suffered no major casualty,? a spokesman of the militant outfit Lashkar-e-Tayyaha said over phone.    

Taunton, May 27 
There was a call as soon as Sourav Ganguly walked into his Posthouse Hotel room last evening. It was from Sujata, wife of Robin Singh, congratulating him for a sterling performance.

Sourav?s response was a warm: ?But I?m happier for your husband.? Perhaps those who believe Sourav isn?t a team man ought to have been around to hear that. That one remark itself said so much.

There were other calls, too, as Sourav prepared to leave for London (with his uncle) to pick up a fresh set of disposable contacts from Dr Bharat Rugani. He?ll join the team in Birmingham today.

Shortly before driving off, though, a visibly pleased Sourav spoke to The Telegraph.

On his MoM-award winning 183

(Smiles) Touch wood, things have been going well and God has been kind.

On how special will the knock remain

Because it was a ?big? game, will always be special. I?ve already said it?s my best one-day innings. Of course, you can?t wake up with the feeling you will get exactly X number of runs. Doesn?t work that way in cricket.

On the massive Indian win

You know, except that Zimbabwe match, we?ve played very well throughout this World Cup. Winning is fine, but just look at the margin ? 157 runs. And, could anybody have imagined any team scoring 373 in England? I?d myself told you (in Bangalore, last month) that totals of around 300 will be rare. Now, we?ve ourselves got past 300 in successive games.

On surpassing Kapil Dev?s 175 not out

Had never even dreamt I would get past that... Honestly, 175 always seemed too high a score... Once I got into the 170s I did, of course, become conscious and, then, Azhar reminded me about the record. Everyone admires Kapil and it?s a nice feeling to have gone one better. He?s conveyed his congratulations.

On whether he will, in days to come, regret missing out on emerging the highest scorer-ever by just a few runs

At the moment, there certainly aren?t any regrets. In fact, I don?t regret things. Indeed, I?m happy I batted for almost 50 overs. Ideally, that?s what openers should do.

On his record-shattering 318-run (second-wicket) partnership with Rahul Dravid

We?d decided, from the very beginning, to be positive. We only had to see off those first few overs... Initially, we had a reasonable target in mind. Later, we got ambitious... Rahul took the pressure off me with a gem of an innings. He was brilliant. We understand each other well, but it?s the same with Sachin or Jadeja or...

On whether that 97 in the first match, versus South Africa (Hove), has given loads of confidence

Certainly has, but even otherwise, I?m a lot more confident today. I know that once I get set, once the first six-eight overs have been played out, I will get a big enough score. The key, really, is to survive those six-eight overs. That?s when the ball will do a few things, that?s when you?ve got to choose the safest option. After that, you can be the master.

On whether, as a kid, Taunton held special meaning

Because of what Viv Richards and Botham did? Somerset, yes, but not Taunton specifically. I grew up with the thought that Middlesex and Somerset were the big Counties. That they were special... As it turned out, I?d never played in Taunton before. (Adds laughing) Wouldn?t mind playing here again, though.

On the Duke balls that sparked quite a controversy

It does move around quite a bit, initially... I doubt if even the bowlers then know what?s going to happen... But the balls remain firm and hard till the end. Makes a difference.

On whether he has that home-away-from-home feeling in England

Look, I?ve got runs everywhere. But, yes, it certainly was a psychological boost that I?d done well on our last tour (1996). Still, everything that?s over is history. Next innings, I?ll start from zero. I?m aware of that.

Finally, on what he intends doing with the MoM champagne bottle

(Laughs again) Intend taking it home.    


Today?s forecast: Mainly cloudy sky with a few spells of light rain. Slight rise in day temperature.

Temperature: Maximum 31.9?C (3?C below normal)
Minimum 26.4?C (1?C below normal)

Relative humidity:Maximum 97%
Minimum 75%

Rainfall: 5.11 mm

Sunset: 6.12 pm
Sunrise: 4.55 am

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