PM limits talks to intrusion
Delhi banks on invisible US hand
Army joins publicity war
In a bunker, a dog for company
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, June 7 
India is considering June 10 as a possible date for inviting Pakistani foreign minister Sartaj Aziz even as Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee today underlined that the only topic of discussion between the two sides could be the Kargil intrusion and the steps Islamabad proposes to take to ??undo?? it.

By looking into alternative dates for talks, Delhi wants to send out a signal to the international community that it is the more reasonable side and is willing to ease the tension between the nuclear neighbours.

But India made it clear that the talks will be held under the terms set by it and not Pakistan. In his address to the nation on Doordarshan tonight, Vajpayee said if Islamabad continued to obfuscate the real issue, Delhi would not hesitate to use whatever steps required to throw out the intruders as it is ??not only our right but also our sacred duty??.

The Prime Minister warned Islamabad that it would be futile to raise any other issue apart from the Kargil incursion. ??The proposed talks will then end before they have begun,?? Vajpayee said, referring to Pakistan?s strategy of shifting the focus from the intrusion to the Line of Control.

??India is always open to talks. But the talks must have a definite, specific purpose. In the present instance, the subject is one and one alone: the intrusion and how Pakistan proposes to undo it. To discuss this, our doors are always open and all dates are convenient to us,?? he said.

But Islamabad today continued trying to shift the blame to its neighbour by alleging that four of its soldiers were killed when military posts within Pakistani territory were struck by Indian shells.

??India is on the warpath. We offered peace talks, but they rejected it,?? Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Tariq Altaf said in Islamabad.

India?s strategy of first rejecting June 7 ? the date proposed by Pakistan to send Aziz to Delhi ? and later coming up with a new date for talks indicates the fine diplomatic balance it is pursuing. India rejected the Pakistani proposal because Aziz made his controversial statement on the LoC not being defined and, hence, suggested this would be the focus of the talks with Delhi.

But India was in no mood to allow Islamabad to turn a military action into a diplomatic initiative by agreeing to the date set by Pakistan. By insisting that the Kargil foray can be the only agenda for discussions, the BJP government is not only sending out a clear signal to Pakistan on what to expect when Aziz arrives for talks, but also trying to prepare the nation and the world about the possible failure of the dialogue due to Islamabad?s obduracy.

Officials are confident that Delhi has the diplomatic upper hand. They are convinced there are more takers for the Indian line that the sole objective of the military action in Kargil was to clear its territory of Pakistani intruders. Armed with this knowledge, India is now preparing for a date when the two sides can talk on these developments.

Accusing Pakistan of violating the Simla Agreement, Vajpayee said Islamabad had resorted to the use of force in its attempt to unilaterally alter the LoC. But, he argued, India had shown its willingness to improve relations with Pakistan by signing the Lahore Declaration.

??We are at peace with other neighbours. We were taking major steps with Pakistan also. Our people desire it,?? the Prime Minister said.    

New Delhi, June 7 
India?s options in Kargil are steadily narrowing to two choices: a third party role in ending the conflict or a military solution.

New Delhi?s increasing reticence on either the course of the conflict or the diplomatic strategy stems from the realisation that neither of these options is easy.

No one in South Block will admit it on record, but the government is increasingly looking to the US to bring about an end to the crisis through non-military means. But it is an expectation which will not be acknowledged since it runs counter to the argument against any third party role.

South Block?s procrastination over Pakistani foreign minister Sartaj Aziz?s visit to New Delhi has partly been the result of hopes here that the US will persuade Islamabad to end its violation of the Line of Control (LoC) and pull out the infiltrators.

For US diplomacy to succeed, India will have to agree to safe passage for the militants, a requirement to which foreign secretary K. Raghunath has already committed India in his meetings with some ambassadors.

Most foreign governments believe that even if the visit by Aziz takes place, direct talks between India and Pakistan may not produce much unless Washington secures a commitment from Islamabad about a negotiated solution.

Raghunath told a group of envoys who met him that the idea of a dialogue with Pakistan was ?humbug as long as the Indian territory was occupied?.

India?s delay in receiving Aziz is also being interpreted here as a way of putting greater pressure on the US to bring about a speedy end to Pakistani aggression.

That the US was playing a key role became obvious on Monday when Hafiz Muhammad Sayeed, chief of the notorious militant organisation, Lashkar-e-Taiba, announced in Pakistan ?we are not going to withdraw even an inch from Kargil or Drass at the request of the US or Pakistan?.

Syed Salahuddin, chairman of the United Jehad Council, an umbrella group of 14 Pakistan-based militant outfits, wrote to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accusing him of succumbing to US pressure. Salahuddin also rejected what he described as an Indian offer of safe passage. ?We do not need safe passage from the battlefield,? he said.

The government?s difficulty is that although there is broad agreement that a negotiated settlement ? at the behest of the US or otherwise ? is the best option, it will not be in a position to acknowledge any US role.

Having rejected any third party role in Kashmir for decades, it would be difficult for New Delhi to acknowledge that the US had played any part in bringing the crisis to an end.

The best that South Block can do is pretend that Washington had acted on its own.    

New Delhi, June 7 
The Indian army shrugged off its reticence and went on a publicity blitz today, claiming to have ?reliable information? that precisely 221 Pakistani regulars had been killed in Kargil.

Dismissing Pakistan?s suggestion that the conflict was a struggle for freedom, the army indicated it was being forced into a full-fledged war in Kargil and, to a limited extent, elsewhere in Jammu and Kashmir.

In a statement issued at the joint briefing of the ministries of defence and external affairs, an army spokesperson said: ?Reliable intelligence inputs have revealed that the armed intruders comprise mainly Pakistan army regulars, supported by a sprinkling of hired Mujahideens to give it a facade of jehad.?

The fifth paragraph of the statement said: ?We have collated the casualty figures of the enemy based on numerous inputs. As on date, the Pakistan army has suffered 221 killed. The details of army personnel injured and the casualties inflicted on the militants are being ascertained and will be released in due course.?

The Pakistani army, however, rejected India?s claim, terming it ?highly exaggerated?.

Today?s media overdrive created a stir among foreign journalists because this is the first time the army has hinted at a no-holds-barred Indo-Pakistan conflict.

Till now, the armed forces insisted that the intruders, mainly Afghan mercenaries, had in their ranks a large number of Pakistani regulars, but never gave out information on the possible break-up.

Over the past four days, the forces have become more vocal about Pakistani army presence. On Saturday, they produced documentary evidence of three Pakistani soldiers killed in action.

But to say that 221 Pakistani soldiers were killed is a big step forward from indefinite claims of participation.

Colonel Vikram Singh, who briefed the media today, said initially the army had seen these ?Mujahideens? in their Pathan suits and had not been able to distinguish between Pakistani regulars and mercenaries. Later, intelligence inputs allowed a better insight into the composition and background of the intruders.

Earlier, the army said nearly 400 in the enemy camp were killed, but did not know how many were regular troops. With today?s figure of 221, the rest of the dead may be assumed to be Mujahideens.

Col Singh refused to elaborate on the source or the basis of his information. He explained that operational details could not be divulged and asserted that the inputs were reliable.

The media blitz coincided with mounting army pressure on intruder-occupied pockets. Over the past 24 hours, the army has begun clambering up the slopes of Drass, Mashkoh Valley, Kaksar and Batalik ridges.

President briefed

The three service chiefs and defence secretary T.R. Prasad called on President K.R. Narayanan to brief him on the Kargil operation.    

It took 60 Bofors shells, each packed with 43 kilos of TNT and flung out with stunning power, to smash the enemy bunker on the mountain across. But as the artillery celebrated success, the infantry was still struggling. Pakistani soldiers were still holding Height 4,950 and mowing down Indian jawans trying to clamber up the slopes. The adversary was not even having to use his ammunition to keep the jawans at bay; he was just rolling down rocks on them. ?It is tough,? said the young captain. ?They just escape our shells behind the peak and then fight off the infantry so easily from their heights.?

But in a deafening crossfire of artillery guns ? two jawans and a civilian were killed in the shelling of Drass this morning ? we were cowering in a dark sandbagged bunker with a frightened and growling mountain dog for company. The captain was screaming to his mates still outside to dash for cover. The shells were whistling about, invisible till they hit something and sprang forth in a shower of cinders. ?The devil may curse him,? muttered the captain. ?He is trying to hit us extra hard because we have blown his bunker. Stay in. He will not stop for a while now.?

The three key peaks of Tololing ? Height 4,950, Height 5,140 and Tiger Hill ? were well in sight of the bunker, all under sustained artillery and infantry assault but all still out of reach.

Height 5,140 is where they shot down the MI-17 chopper from and after nearly a fortnight?s shelling, the enemy was still holding out. On 5,140 as well as 4,950, infantry troops had reached within 30 metres of enemy positions. But they were being pushed back. ?They have good communication between peaks,? the captain said. ?Pickets on nearby peaks get information and start firing on them.?

The captain, like most other soldiers, rubbished the notion that the infiltration was an operation of mercenaries alone. ?They are mostly Pakistani army regulars,? he said, adding: ?No group of mercenaries could have launched such a coordinated and powerful assault.?

?We must sort them out,? said the commander of the unit that had blasted the bunker during a sudden lull in the shelling. ?But it will take time.?

The Drass valley is littered with signs of preparations for a bigger offensive. Since last week, four Bofors and 130-mm medium-range guns have been positioned. Mortar guns have been placed in serried columns along the foothills and, for the first time today, multi-barrelled rocket launchers which can fire up to 40 missiles simultaneously were used to hit targets on the Tololing heights. Infantry regiments are moving down the Zojila Pass and up the Mashkoh and Drass valleys in waves.

The urgency of clearing Mashkoh and Tololing is probably mounting hard on the army. Both overlook Drass and are perilously close to National Highway 1A, the country?s only road link to Kargil and Ladakh. Mashkoh and Tololing need to be speedily recaptured for this is the time supply convoys move up to Kargil and Leh which need to stock up essential commodities for their long winter hibernation.

The supply convoys have been severely crippled by the artillery battles in and around Drass. If their normal movement is not resumed quickly, it could cause a severe commodity crisis in Kargil and Leh, if not immediately, in the isolation of winter.

Besides, the armed forces movement itself has been obstructed because of the constant fire from across. ?As long as they have Mashkoh and Tololing, they will always be able to disrupt traffic in the national highway, affecting not only defence operations but also civilian life in the region. Knocking them off quickly is essential,? said an officer in Drass.

Junior and younger officers, always the more excitable, are showing signs of exasperation with their failure to take Mashkoh and Tololing completely. One said their operations were constrained ?because we are having to operate within the LoC whereas the enemy has placed no such restrictions on himself?. Another went a step further and suggested a formal declaration of war. ?Then we can open more fronts, operate behind their lines and quickly cut off their supplies. Operating within our side of the LoC is very limiting in terms of war strategy.?

But what suits the soldier probably does not suit his political master. The young captain?s micro strategy has macro implications the government in New Delhi will be loathe to countenance. India and Pakistan are both nuclear powers. An open declaration of war could mean inviting third party intervention in Kashmir. Just what Delhi does not want. The jawan, meanwhile, is fighting and dying ? on the heights, in the unprotected valleys and sometimes in bunkers which even dogs don?t visit.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of development of thunderclouds towards afternoon or evening.
Temperature: Maximum 35.9?C (1?C above normal)
Minimum 27.5?C (Normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 98% Minimum 59%
Rainfall: 20.3mm
Sunset: 6.16 pm Sunrise: 4.54 am    

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