Vajpayee sets term after Sharif?s truce call
Captured pilot paraded on TV
Field Glasses
India on fire for point clincher
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, May 28 
Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee conveyed his ?deep disappointment? over the armed intrusion into Kargil to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif and warned that the situation could ?escalate beyond the imagination of either side? even as Pakistan-backed militants today shot down a Mi-17 helicopter near Totoling in the Drass sector, killing four personnel, including two pilots.

Sharif called Vajpayee this afternoon to offer talks for resolving the ?Kashmir conflict? but Vajpayee virtually rebuffed him, saying that India felt ?deeply betrayed? by the Pakistan-backed infiltration at a time when the neighbours were working on normalising ties.

?The Prime Minister was forthright and told Sharif the infiltration had created a situation where India had no option but to defend its territorial integrity,? official sources told The Telegraph tonight. [Agencies quoted Pakistan TV as saying Sharif, during his 20-minute conversation with Vajpayee, offered to send his foreign minister Sartaj Aziz to Delhi for talks. ?We will finalise the details tomorrow,? Aziz told AP.]

Asked about the Indian response to the offer for talks, the sources said: ?If goodwill is shown from the other side, India will be happy to reciprocate, but that is not the issue at the moment. Pakistan has opened a situation on the frontier which we have to respond to.? The sources added Vajpayee put the onus for escalating tension on Pakistan and told Sharif it was up to him now to bring tempers down.

Indian forces are now readying for a more drawn-out ground engagement in the Kargil hills than initially anticipated. Defence ministry spokesmen claimed mounting successes in repulsing intruders but indicated airstrikes may not be enough; more ground troops may have to be pressed to push invaders behind the Line of Control (LoC).

?We will have to review our options for clearing the occupied areas,? Air Vice-Marshal S.K. Malik said. Malik conceded ?expected losses? to Indian forces but said: ?Despite stiff opposition in clearing areas, we have caused extensive damage to the intruders.?

The Mi-17 chopper was blasted by a shoulder-mounted Stinger missile about six km within the LoC this morning. Defence sources were unable to pinpoint the source of the hit, but a Pakistan-backed guerrilla outfit calling itself the Muttahida Jihad Council claimed responsibility. Late tonight, the group said it had shot down two helicopters. But India denied the new claim.

While it did not blame Pakistani forces for hitting the chopper, the defence ministry kept up the pitch of allegations on Pakistan?s involvement in the intrusion. ?The world needs no further proof of Pakistani encroachment into our territory,? Malik said.

Defence minister George Fernandes, however, struck a different note earlier in the day. Emerging from a meeting of the Cabinet committee on security, Fernandes virtually gave the Sharif government a clean chit, saying: ?The Pakistani army has hatched a conspiracy to push the intruders. The Nawaz Sharif government or the ISI did not have a major role in it.?

The Cabinet committee met amid rising concern over repeated blows to the IAF to review the situation on the Kargil frontier. Vajpayee plans to brief senior Opposition leaders tomorrow. Twenty-eight Indian soldiers have been killed, over 130 injured and 12 reported missing in Operation Vijay.

Malik said India had approached Pakistani authorities with a request to return Flight Lieutenant K. Nachiketa, who was taken prisoner of war after his MiG-27 crashed in Pakistani territory yesterday. ?We also demand that all POWs Pakistan has taken should be treated in keeping with the Geneva Convention,? Malik said. Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja, whose MiG-21 was shot down, is reported killed in action.

Today?s air and ground operations were concentrated in the Drass sector and defence sources claimed to have vacated two ridges near Totoling. The positions were attacked repeatedly and after severe air pounding this morning, ground forces were able to reclaim both. ?Heavy casualties were inflicted during the airstrikes and this was later confirmed by ground forces,? Malik said.

Major Gen. J.J. Singh, deputy director-general, military operations, put initial estimates of losses on the other side at more than 200. ?Intelligence reports suggest that over 200 have been killed but the figure could be much higher. Lots more have been wounded.?

Singh claimed Indian ground troops were fast gaining ascendancy on key ridges in the Kargil-Drass sector and said joint air and ground operations would ?continue relentlessly? until the invasion had been neutralised.    

May 28 
?Nachi, engine flame-out, relighting,? radioed Flight Lieutenant K. Nachiketa seconds after his MiG-27 combat jet developed mechanical trouble while on a mission to bombard infiltrators holed up in the high mountains in the Kargil sector.

Seconds later, he bailed out saying: ?Nachi ejecting now?.

That was yesterday afternoon.

Today, a person identified as Nachiketa was paraded on state-run Pakistan Television. The camera zoomed in on the person in Indian flight suit, his name tag in focus on the television screen.

He looked calm, apart from a darkening welt on his forehead. He did not speak. An Indian Air Force officer later said Nachiketa is a bachelor whose only family is an ailing father.

?We are treating him as a prisoner of war and treating him according to the Geneva Convention,? said a Pakistani army commander. ?More than that, we are treating him in the Islamic tradition, with hospitality and care,? he added. Pakistan did not say when Nachiketa would be handed over to the Indian authorities.

India has demanded that Nachiketa be returned, saying that he is not a prisoner of war because the two nations are not at war. Pakistan, however, is holding him in a military base outside occupied Kashmir.

Earlier, journalists were allowed to see Nachiketa but not allowed to interview him. They were not permitted to take photographs either.

Nachiketa may be ?safe and sound?, but there is little news of the man who went in search of him. Yesterday, as Nachiketa floated down in a parachute, another IAF pilot, Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja, hovered over in a MiG-21 to spot the landing area of his colleague.

Moments later, Ahuja radioed his team leader: ?Hercules One, suspecting a missile hit.? Ahuja?s plane was shot down by Pakistan. Though India says he is missing in action, Pakistan claimed he had been killed. But till tonight, his body has not been found.

Pakistani army took journalists to the wreckage site which was 12 km inside occupied Kashmir. But Indian officials have said that a plane hit while moving at high speed could continue to travel several kilometres off course.    


Dogfight to be on ground

India is now paying the price in Kargil for not being able to raise the cost for Pakistan in its proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir.

Ever since 1989, when Pakistan launched its third successful attempt after 1947 and 1965 to push in militants into Jammu and Kashmir, India has failed to evolve a strategy to deter Pakistan from its design to foment an insurgency in order to internationalise the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. Consequently, we have been batting on a weak wicket.

Pakistan has raised the threshold of conflict in Kargil. It has pushed in combatants to take and hold ground.

These fighters are, by no description, infiltrators. India has reacted by resorting to the use of air power.

Structurally, India is a reactive nation. The army is no different. It can?t be because it has been nurtured on a defensive diet, building a passive mentality. All this is not to suggest that it will not deliver when given the go-ahead.

The present situation is similar to the infiltration by Pakistan army regulars into Jammu and Kashmir in 1965.

But India can no longer broaden the conflict as it did then by crossing the international border or opening a new front. India is in a strategic straitjacket of its own making. In times when it could have crossed the Line of Control (LoC), it did not. Now it just cannot.

The nuclear-weapons status of both countries restricts the options for escalation beyond the subconventional threshold. Other inhibitors lie in the Simla Agreement, notably the sanctity of the LoC which both sides are pledged not to alter by use of force.

It is for these reasons that the Kargil flare-up will stay localised to the 140-km zone of incursions between Zojilla Pass and the imaginary landmark NJ 9842, the unfinished termination of the LoC beyond which it was not delineated over the Siachen glacier after the 1971 war.

Now, as in 1965, the so-called infiltrators were detected by civilians who reported their presence to the army. Contact was established with them over a 100-km front in four specific areas of intrusion: Mashkoh, Drass, Kaksar and Batalik.

It was clear that Pakistan had pushed across the LoC, through gaps in Indian defence, well-armed and fully-trained militants backed up by regular troops to occupy vacant mountain heights 8 km to 10 km in depth.

This action, both bold and premeditated, was designed as much to unhinge Indian defences as to achieve surprise. It is also clear the operation was masterminded by the army, some say, by army chief Gen. Parvez Musharraf himself, an expert in clandestine operations.

Why would the Pakistan army carry out a sustained and flagrant violation of the LoC, fully aware it would attract immediate retribution and wreck the Lahore peace process? One reasoning is that hardliners in the army, impatient over the drag in Kashmir, have launched these limited attacks, some say, over the head of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief, to test India?s resolve in defending it.

But there are more cogent objectives: cut off the Zojilla-Leh road, pump in infiltrators to reactivate militancy, suck in further the militancy-fatigued Indian army and internationalise Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan has made two miscalculations: first, its timing went wrong. The Zojilla Pass normally opens end May-early June. This year, Indian sappers forced open the Pass two weeks in advance, enabling reinforcements to swiftly block the expansion of the intrusions across the LoC.

The second miscalculation was over the Indian response: the non-calibrated use of air power. This sent out the signal about India?s resolve to meet the challenge posed by the intrusions head on. However, in this close combat war of attrition, air power is more symbolic and psychological. Supersonic aircraft flying over precipitous snow-clad mountain ranges 17,000 feet high, especially close to the LoC, are extremely vulnerable to shoulder-held missiles and anti-aircraft guns. Equally difficult to establish is whether the aircraft are fired from the zones of intrusion or from Pakistani posts hugging the LoC.

The loss of two MiG aircraft and a helicopter on two successive days by the IAF, which has been pressed into combat for the first time since the 1971 war, is a courageous start to the air campaign as part of the air-land battle. The air strikes will continue, albeit selectively, to signal India?s resolve to undo the incursions and restore the situation.

Discrepancies in intelligence, though marked, are only part of this unfortunate development. For the last two years, warning bells about transfer of the Taliban surplus from Afghanistan into Jammu and Kashmir were ringing and could have been pointing to this so-called dormant sector.

The Kargil area is certainly not dormant. It is hugely coveted. We?re forgetting that maximum number of posts have changed hands in this very sector, both before the 1965 war, after it and in 1971. Point 13620 is the highest pinnacle on the ridge overlooking Kargil. It was captured twice by India in 1965 and each time returned to Pakistan. In 1971, it was retaken but not given back.

The frequent shelling of Kargil town and interdiction of the road has created serious difficulties for movement and succour to civilian and military personnel. This time around, Drass has been shelled for the first time.

The picture of the exact size and composition of the intrusions is still not clear though operations have been underway to contain and eliminate these bridgeheads. These are eviction operations where the infantry will have to slug it out, hill by mountain hill. It will be a long haul unless the guest militants and Pakistani soldiers decide it is better to fight and run away in order to live and fight another day.

If, on the other hand, Pakistan decides to up the ante, we are in for a long slanging match, giving credence to Western theories that Jammu and Kashmir is a nuclear flashpoint, that such weapons have made the security situation less secure and that Pakistanis and Indians are irresponsible.

Gen. Mehta is former GOC, IPKF, and has served in the Kargil area    

Birmingham, May 28 
It?s time for Manchester to go wild. For chic flower shows and for the much-looked-forward-to Bank Weekend holiday.

Time, too, for India and England to grab the all-important two points on offer in tomorrow?s game at Edgbaston.

England are certainly ahead on points, but captain Alec Stewart acknowledged ?India are on fire?. He?s hoping England don?t get singed, that they?re spared the Kenya and Lanka treatment.

That one comment salutes India?s stunning comeback after the first two matches. And, already, parallels are being drawn with Pakistan?s sensational recovery in the 1992 edition.

Of course, Azharuddin hasn?t talked on the Imran Khan lines ? ?we fought back like cornered tigers?. In days to come, though, he may well say that. Only, yet another ?big? game is hours away.

For the moment, Azhar is merely saying: ?The only strategy we have is to beat England.?

Assuming the remaining group A matches go with form, the second and third positions ?after South Africa, naturally, ?will be determined by the evening.

But it isn?t just the scramble for points on the morrow.

As both India and England have lost to South Africa, they?ve already forfeited two of the four points (gained over the other group qualifiers) that can be carried to the Super Six.

So losing, but still making it with nothing carried over, can?t be a pleasing prospect.

If anything, it will be a pressure game and nerves, usually associated with Indo-Pak matches, could come into play. The huge win over Sri Lanka in Taunton, however, does give India a light headstart.

The bookies, incidentally, have placed India and England joint-favourites. ?It could be anybody?s day... It?s going to be tight,? remarked a spokesman for Ladbrokes, moments after opening the ?betting caravan?.

With a huge Indian presence, Azhar?s team won?t be short on support. It?s going to be more vocal after Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid?s record-erasing effort at Taunton. In any case, fans at Edgbaston are probably the noisiest in England.

Having amassed over 1,200 runs in the first four games ? the maximum by a wide margin ? it?s clear the batsmen are on song.

Sourav and Dravid, for instance, have topped the 300-mark. It?s the bowling that could do with improvement.

Nayan Mongia has recovered sufficiently to be named in the XII.

The England balance-sheet has a somewhat different bottomline.

Nasser Hussain, Graeme Hick and Graham Thorpe have been among the runs, yes, but the top weapon remains the debonair Darren Gough.

Lending him excellent support has been Alan Mullally, who made an excellent Test debut against India, in Birmingham itself, three years ago. And, then, there?s Mark Ealham.

It rained last night and was overcast for much of the day today, conditions that could help England neutralise India?s light headstart.    

Today?s forecast: Mainly cloudy sky. Possibility of showers. Southwest monsoon advanced over West Bengal today.

Temperature: Maximum 30.6?C (4?C below normal)
Minimum 26.5?C (Normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 97%
Minimum 88%

Rainfall: 15 mm

Sunset: 6.12 pm
Sunrise: 4.55 am

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