Prime Minister digs in heels as troops advance
Human faces of an undeclared war
Caught between clouds and Zimbabwe
Field glasses
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, May 29 
Even as India asserted it pushed back infiltrators from several positions in Kargil today, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee ruled out withdrawal of airstrikes as a condition for talks with Pakistan.

Indian troops reached the Line of Control (LoC) in Drass and cleared many other areas of infiltrators. The army said there have been heavy casualties on the other side and found proof to back its claim that the intruders include Pakistani soldiers.

Pakistan renewed its offer for talks, with foreign minister Sartaj Aziz announcing he was ready to visit India early next week. But foreign ministry sources here said no decision had been taken.

Vajpayee told an all-party meet that he had informed Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that India was unwilling to accept the withdrawal of airstrikes on Drass and Batalik ridges as a condition for dialogue. Sharif had called Vajpayee yesterday with the talks offer.

At the meeting, Vajpayee said the airstrikes would continue because there could be no compromise on territorial integrity.

Defence minister George Fernandes came under fire from the Opposition and some ruling coalition allies for giving a clean chit to the Pakistan government and its intelligence wing, the ISI. Fernandes and Chief of Army Staff General V.P. Malik reached Srinagar today to assess the situation.

An alert has been sounded all along the 740-km LoC. An army spokesperson said infiltrators had been evicted from two positions in Batalik, one in Drass and another at Mashkoh Valley. The insurgents are still holding four or five crucial positions in Batalik, one in Kaksar and a couple in Drass. These would take time to re-occupy, he said.

The army now has proof that the infiltrators include Pakistani troops, having recovered the identity card of a soldier belonging to the Fourth Northern Light Infantry division. The body of the soldier, identified as Abdul Ayub, was also found in an area pounded by the air force.

India has accessed definite information on heavy casualties on the other side by intercepting radio communication at Skardu base in occupied Kashmir. Officials put the casualties at 300 since May 9. There was also ?major accretion? in another confrontation near Kargil, the spokesperson said.    

May 29 
Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja?s son does not know that his father is a martyr. At five, he is too young even to spell the word.

Flight Lieutenant K. Nachiketa?s sister, Sandhya, will celebrate her brother?s 26th birthday today knowing that he was taken prisoner of war only after emptying eight rounds from his pistol while trying to escape. Nachiketa surrendered because he was outgunned and outmanned.

Ahuja did not have the chance to do even that. He stared down the barrel of an enemy gun and was, according to Indian army sources, ?shot in cold blood?. He took a bullet below the chin and another in the chest.

In those last frenzied moments, staring death in the face and facing the men who shot him, Ahuja?s thoughts may not have been far from his Bhatinda home.

Home they brought Alka Ahuja?s warrior dead.

For Ahuja?s parents, who live in Rajasthan but have come over to Bhatinda after learning that he was missing, Ahuja will become a cask of memories draped in a flightsuit.

Ahuja will be cremated with full military honours in Killa Nihalsinghwala village near Bhatinda: a gun salute at the funeral for a bullet in the head.

Ajay?s brother-in-law Neel-kant was taken to the airbase to receive the body.

?He was a brilliant student,? Neelkant said.

Ajay?s father, P.L. Ahuja, was too numbed to speak. He said he was proud of his son, proud that his son had laid down his life for the country.

A railway clerk who dreamt that his son would one day be a fighter pilot, P.L. Ahuja could never have imagined how close to the precipice Ajay was when he flew out in his MiG-21 fighter that fatal Thursday.

There were reports of mourning in the railway colony in Kota, Rajasthan, where Ajay was brought up and where his parents had lived for decades.

There must be mourning too, at St. John?s School in Kota, where he studied, and among his batchmates at the National Defence Academy, which he joined in 1992.

In Sarsawa air force base in Saharanpur, Sharmila, Dina and Anuradha are also in mourning.

Their husbands ? Squadron Leader S. Pundir, Flight Lieutenant S. Muhilan and Flight Engineer P.B.N.R. Prasad ? died when their helicopter went down after being hit by a Stinger missile from insurgents in Indian territory. Air Force authorities said they are not sure if the fourth victim, Sergeant R.K. Sahu, was married.

Pundir was from Dehra Dun, in Uttar Pradesh, Muhilan was from Tamil Nadu, Sahu from Cuttack, Orissa, and Prasad from Andhra Pradesh.

These men are not the only casualties in the drive to flush out militants from Kargil. India has said it has lost 28 soldiers on the slopes of the Kargil mountains since the beginning of Operation Vijay.

With India launching airstrikes, the undeclared war has had its prisoners.

Flight Lieutenant Nachiketa, paraded on state-run Pakistan Television yesterday, looked composed but for a darkening welt on his forehead.

There is relief and anxiety at the Kalkaji residence of Nachiketa?s sister Sandhya: relief that Nachiketa is alive and anxiety that they do not know when he will be with them again. [Yesterday, an IAF officer had mistakenly said that an ailing father was the only family Nachiketa had.]

Sandhya and her husband said they were proud of Nachiketa, a ?very jovial young man?.

They did not know then that he had tried to escape and fired from his pistol after hitting the ground and gave up only when it was inevitable.

Nachiketa?s father was supposed to have moved to his new home in Hyderabad. Before shifting, he was spending some time with his son at his airbase.

Now he may have to wait awhile before Nachiketa sees the new furniture and the coat of paint at the home in the Andhra capital.    

Birmingham, May 29 
The Zimbabwe-unleashed tremor in Chelmsford has taken a global route, sending World Cup equations topsy-turvy.

Themselves qualifying for the Super Six, after stunning South Africa by 48 runs, Zimbabwe have landed India and England in more than a spot of bother.

Nothing short of victory will do for India. England, of course, wouldn?t mind either an abandonment or a tie even if they can?t reach 233.

The elements permitting, the India vs England match will resume tomorrow with England, hit hard by a superb first spell from Debashish Mohanty, 73 for three in 20.3 overs. ?We?re confident. A good many overs remain and Anil Kumble hasn?t yet been introduced,? insisted coach Aunshuman Gaekwad.

If just about everybody at Edgbaston had one eye towards the clouds this afternoon, one ear was tuned to Chelmsford. And, more than anything else, England captain Alec Stewart may regret inviting India to bat despite word there would be rain in the second session.

Perhaps Stewart needs reminding that the Duckworth-Lewis formula makes life miserable for the team batting second.

If at least 25 overs are bowled, the minimum for an actual result, England must reach 100 for three or 114 for four or 132 for five by then. If not, the two crucial points will be awarded to India.

Not enough runs by India was the general feeling at the break, but the jury at rumbustious Edgbaston was still out. It?s cricket after all.

After successive totals of over 300, for India to have finished on 232 for eight is quite a comedown. The reasons for that are many, not least that the last five wickets fell for 58.

Sloppy footwork (Sadagopan Ramesh), an impulsive hit (Sachin Tendulkar), absolute tragedy (Sourav Ganguly), steady bowling (Mark Ealham) and great catches combined to give the innings a light-and-shade effect.

Of course, Rahul Dravid and Sourav added to their already high personal tally. But both could ? and should ? have been around for much longer.

Ironically, it was a Dravid drive which deflected off Ealham, the bowler, that ended Sourav?s stay. Dravid himself fell to a catch in the country. They?d put on 44 for the second-wicket after the first posted 49. Dravid and Sachin added 46 for the third.

It?s significant the Indians didn?t register a single 50-plus partnership. So momentum, the cornerstone of any effort of note, was just not there. Even though conditions were far more batsman-friendly than forecast for the afternoon.

England were predictable: Not flamboyant, but pretty professional.

Incidentally, there was time for Mohammed Azharuddin to reach a purely personal landmark. Already the most capped one-day cricketer, he became the first to break the 9,000 barrier.

It didn?t go unnoticed by the huge turnout ? with 75 per cent of the fans supporting India.    

Build-up for the big push

The battle for Kargil heights is hotting up. After four days of sustained air and ground assaults, the capping and rolling-back of the four pockets of intrusion is well under way. So is the build-up of additional resources required for this task. In the past 48 hours, despite the loss of a Mi-17 helicopter due to a Stinger missile, rolling-back operations have been very successful, especially in the Drass sector where the intrusions are close to the Zojilla Pass and the vital highway from Srinagar to Leh.

The orange ribbons strung on maps in the Operations Room denoting the incursions are also being rolled back towards the LoC. This is slow and painstaking, as troops have to be fully acclimatised for operating at heights between 15,000 and 17,000 feet.

The exact size and strength of each intrusion is still being assessed. So are the operational plans to deal with the evolving situation. Minimising casualties is as major a factor as capturing the intruders while dislodging them from the commanding heights.

Operations in high-altitude mountain terrain have to be deliberate, detailed and logistically foolproof. They are usually mounted during hours of darkness or in adverse weather conditions. A man and a dog occupying a pinnacle can hold back a force severalfold bigger. Military and mountaineering skills are both required to evict the defender.

Given these severe operational constraints, eviction plans will take time as forces arrive, prepare and deploy for operations.

Till then the intrusions will need to be contained and not allowed to grow. A rough estimate of troops and time required to recapture the real estate is approximately 20,000 additional soldiers for six to eight weeks.

So far Pakistan has reacted only verbally: saying it has nothing to do with the intrusions which are part of the indigenous insurgency, calling Indian action of self-defence as ?hostile?, demanding UN observers and declaring it reserves the right to respond to the use of air power by India.

There are some imponderables: will Pakistan engage other sectors in Jammu and Kashmir to take the heat off the Kargil sector? Very likely. Will it get the Pakistan Air Force airborne? Likely, but it will not cross the LoC except as a deliberate mistake to take on targets of opportunity. And later declare the Indian aircraft were on its side of the LoC.

For the present orders given to the army are unambiguous: to clear the intrusions as soon as possible without crossing the LoC.

Similarly, the air force is to assist the army in its operations but with the same embargo.

Defence analysts say that India should have done a tit-for-tat: occupied territory in PoK instead of addressing head-on Pakistani intrusions in Kargil. This is a high-risk and militarily unsustainable operation for India. There are severe limits to India?s military options in Jammu and Kashmir. This is a self-written legacy of history.

There is only one option: to eliminate the intrusions, whatever the costs. However, a 1994 Hazratbal-type situation could develop once the diplomatic channels are opened. For the Indian army to give the bottled-up intruders safe passage across the LoC will be an extremely difficult and unsavoury decision. How Pakistan will wriggle out its complicity in the launch of these intrusions will test Pakistan?s excellence in creative thinking.

For the next three to four days, airstrikes will continue, though not with the initial intensity. Attack helicopters will be used less frequently. New strike and engagement strategies will be evolved to deter Stinger missiles, more importantly to confine air operations within the LoC ? the possibility of aircraft straying into PoK being ruled out.

The army will press ahead its operations to eliminate and push back the incursions, simultaneously cutting off the umbilical cords with their bases across the LoC. Teams of special action groups and commandos will stand by for critical missions.

Pressure on the intruders will not be let up.

An all-out war is still very, very unlikely. The army and the Khan factor in Pakistan rule it out. Whenever Pakistan has gone to war with India, it was under military rule: in 1965 there was Ayub Khan and in 1971 there was Yahya Khan. The invasion by tribal raiders of Jammu and Kashmir in 1947 was spearheaded by Akbar Khan. The infiltration in 1965 was led by Aijaz Khan. The Martial Law Administrator in Lahore in the Sixties was Azam Khan. The entire Khan clan was all Generals.

However, the present army chief is General Parvez Musharraf, a mohajir. And the Prime Minister is a civilian.

Despite the loss of pilots and aircraft, the morale of the IAF is very high. About aircraft, their officers say: ?If you use them, you lose them.? This is the first time after 1971 that the pilots are flying combat missions.

The soldiers in Kargil are no longer fighting a proxy war with one hand tied behind their back. They are exuberant that they?re fighting the war they?re trained for.

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

Today?s forecast: One or two showers or thundershowers.
Temperature: Maximum 28?C (7?C below normal)
Minimum 25.4?C (2?C below normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum: 100%
Minimum: 92%
Rainfall: 85.5 mm
Sunset: 6.13 pm
Sunrise: 4.55 am    

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