Prasad-led charge shellshocks Pak
Army blind to smoke signals
India sets up peace talks on Saturday
Guns will spout anger at loss
Calcutta Weather

Manchester, June 8 
Every match has a defining moment; each tournament a defining game.

So, if Moin Khan?s dismissal will be remembered as the moment of a pulsating World Cup match, India?s 47-run win over Pakistan may eventually upset many calculations.

Significantly, India?s all-win record in the World Cup, against Pakistan, remains intact: Sydney in 1992, Bangalore four years later and, now, Manchester.

This edition?s bottomline reads thus: India aren?t out of the reckoning for a semi-finals berth; Pakistan?s own qualification is somewhat in jeopardy. They?ve lost both super-six games. India need to beat New Zealand, on Saturday, and keep fingers crossed. Pakistan must pip an upbeat Zimbabwe.

?We?ve got into this habit of making things difficult... We?ve got to occupy the crease for all 50 overs,? remarked an annoyed Wasim Akram. Back in the dressing room, he?s bound to read out the riot act.

Mohammed Azharuddin, all smiles, attributed everything to ?team effort?. Of course, he also praised Man-of-the-Match Venkatesh Prasad for his first-ever haul of five wickets (in 141 one-dayers).

It truly was a team effort and, at times, so involved was somebody like Sachin Tendulkar that he would interact more with the bowlers than the captain himself.

Hard-fought though the game was, it was played in the proper spirit and Akram was generous in praising Azhar and the Indians. The Pakistan captain graciously said he was ?happy?.

Sadly, around 30-odd Pakistani fans didn?t quite feel the same way and, despite the presence of policemen and security-stewards, burned the Indian flag just off the pitch. This was moments after the presentation ceremony.

Security personnel belatedly swung into action, but the damage had been done. That, too, at a time when relations between the two countries are at a low. The arrests won?t undo the harm.

To return to the match, with the Old Trafford wicket not exactly batsman-friendly, India?s 227 for six didn?t seem far short of being competitive. It turned out to be more than enough, though Pakistan?s booming start (41 for one in eight overs) had appeared ominous.

Being positive was an absolute must, and Azhar didn?t think twice on winning the toss. Opting to bat on a wicket covered for the better part of two days would normally be akin to flirting with trouble but, in the circumstances, bold moves had to be made.

One isn?t sure how many in the Indian team heard Akram label the sellout a ?practice game?, during the post-toss TV interview, but that one remark alone would have fired up the Indians.

A majority of the over 20,000 fans were aggressive Pakistanis, but there still were plenty of Tricolours to enthuse and inspire.

Even if all roads didn?t lead to Old Trafford, all the cars certainly headed for the amphitheatre which, currently, qualifies for the showpiece category. Ravi Shastri had to drive as he would in Calcutta to report on time to the BBC; Imran Khan, not as bold, was 10 minutes late forcing Colin Croft to fill-in.

In a first for this World Cup, both captains had waved to the turnout after the toss ? the initiative, apparently, was taken by Match Referee Raman Subba Row.    

New Delhi, June 8 
The defence ministry had a tough time extracting information from the military establishment on Kargil in the first fortnight of May. The army was not trying to ignore the civil administration but, having no clue to the nature of the war the first batch of intruders wanted to wage, had decided that the situation was under control.

This delayed India?s reply to the intrusion. By the time Operation Vijay got under way on May 26, the militants and Pakistani regulars had a head start.

It appears that some defence ministry officials, stirred by a volley of shells which hit Kargil on May 6 and then another round which blew up an ammunition dump on May 7, had got in touch with the Directorate General of Military Operations (DGMO).

Responding to the phone call from the defence ministry around May 8, the DGMO said little, dismissing the dump explosion as the result of routine shelling.

On May 9, a report of a few deaths in Kargil prompted the defence ministry to seek in writing the DGMO?s reaction. Over the next two days, defence ministry officials held talks with the DGMO. Still the military did not consider drastic action.

On May 12, the Intelligence Bureau sent a two-page report but with little meat.

The army sat up on May 14 when heavy shelling killed several jawans ? 20 according to Intelligence Bureau, eight according to brigade headquarters.

It was also on May 14 that the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) sent its first report on Kargil. But RAW, which is supposed to have agents in Pakistan, did not offer any explanation for the delay.

Army chief General V.P. Malik was away in Europe. On May 15, the defence secretary met vice-chief of staff Lt-General Chandra Shekhar and discussed the situation.

Home secretary Kamal Pandey met the vice-chief on May 16, but only to discuss civilian evacuation. Defence minister George Fernandes was informed at this time that Kargil was no longer an internal security matter.

On May 17, the army arranged a detailed briefing for Fernandes. He was already angry because the DGMO?s copy of the Line of Control map was missing. A new copy was hastily fetched.

General Malik returned on May 19 and a briefing was organised for Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. Vajpayee left for a tour of West Bengal and the Northeast, satisfied that the army was in control.

But by May 23, the extent of the Pakistani assault had sunk in. Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis was summoned and it was agreed on May 25 that Operation Vijay would have to be launched right away. Operation Vijay rolled next day, at least a fortnight late.    

New Delhi, June 8 
Pakistan tonight accepted India?s proposal that talks between the two foreign ministers on the Kargil incursion be held on June 12.

??We have accepted the date proposed by India,?? Pakistan?s foreign minister Sartaj Aziz said in Islamabad after holding consultations with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Aziz said he would leave for New Delhi on June 12 and the ??purpose of the meeting is to reduce the tension on the Line of Control and de-escalate the situation??.

But while agreeing to negotiations, Delhi made it clear it will be prepared for ??all eventualities?? given the fluid situation.

At a meeting chaired by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee this morning to discuss the developments in Kashmir, the Indian leadership ruled out scaling down the military action in Kargil during Aziz?s visit. The leaders also emphasised that they would not entertain any attempt by Pakistan to re-open discussions on the Line of Control and the talks would be limited to the Pakistan-backed intrusion. Vajpayee later called on President K.R. Narayanan.

Pakistan said India?s one-point agenda for the talks was too narrow. ??There should be no conditions for the talks and the agenda should be mutually agreed upon... It should not be unilaterally decided by India,?? Aziz said.

But the manner in which India made the offer suggests that though it is willing to have Aziz over for talks, Delhi is in no mood to soften its position and discuss any other issue apart from the Kargil intrusion and the measures Islamabad proposes to take to defuse the situation.

The Indian stand was made clear by Vajpayee yesterday. In a televised address to the nation, the Prime Minister said Aziz was welcome to hold discussions, but the talks would only be on the armed intrusion in Kargil.

A curt statement issued by the Indian foreign ministry today said Aziz ??may visit India on June 12?? for talks. The statement indicates that the discussions between Aziz and his Indian counterpart Jaswant Singh are not likely to extend beyond a day. If the talks are held for only a day, it will help India confine the agenda to the intrusion and prevent any debate on the LoC.

Pakistani officials admitted that the ??unilateral narrowing of the agenda for talks?? by Indians could make the negotiations difficult. However, they said the silver lining was that the discussions would give the two sides an opportunity to re-establish diplomatic links that had virtually snapped in the past three weeks.

??The perceptions of the two sides on Kargil are much in contrast. But the Aziz-Singh talks will at least allow them to state their positions,?? a Pakistani official said.

Vajpayee held a series of meetings today with the National Security Council, Strategic Policy Group and the National Security Advisory Board to assess the situation. Referring to Pakistan?s attempt to re-open the LoC, the leadership said this revealed its ??inclination towards adventurism??.

Highway blast

At least six soldiers were killed in a landmine explosion on the key Srinagar-Kargil highway late this evening, says our correspondent.    

The soldier?s dark bunker was lit by a flickering kerosene burner. His bed was a ragged sheet of tarpaulin stretched across discarded gunshell cases and he drank his tea from the same pewter mug that he shaved out of. But he had room in his spartan quarters for a few essential luxuries: a rusted samovar for heat on cold nights, a scrapbook picture of a lusciously disrobed Helen lilting in the ?O Haseena Zulfowali? song for sustenance in loneliness and a small black and white television set for watching India?s cricket outings.

The India-Pakistan clash was only a few hours away and the soldier was busy ensuring that his lead battery was well-charged and his set working. ?The signals are bad here but for these circumstances, they are good enough. It will be a match to watch,? the soldier said.

A contest of cricket in faraway Manchester seemed like an unreal abstraction in the pit of a shell-scarred bunker on the edge of a devastated frontier township. Drass was drowned in the sound of battle, shells ringing eerily through the torn rooftops of abandoned homes, and angry guns booming in response. In the upper reaches of Tololing and Mashkoh nearby, the grim battle for military supremacy raged. Now an artillery battle, now an infantry assault.

Troop convoys were droning up and down the shelled-out town centre, depositing clusters of jawans come to dig fresh gun positions. Some were busy cleaning turrets of resting guns, others preparing to launch another round of pounding.

Under a huge marquee, a unit bound for the Mashkoh battleground was finishing a hurried lunch of chapatis, dal, and raw, uncut onions. But at the back of all this, time was ticking away towards that other India-Pakistan confrontation on a playground called Old Trafford.

For this bunkered soldier, though, the cricket match wasn?t quite just play. It was an all-too-human need known as distraction, a way of escaping the war for a while and establishing touch with a more normal patch of life.

And what could be more distracting today, or more normal, than an India match in the World Cup? An India-Pakistan match, of course, meant para-distraction, para-normalcy.

But for the jawan, as for many others engaged along the frontier, the match had another dimension, an almost war-like intensity bubbling over flames of national pride and historical prejudice.

The jawan was posted on the Poonch frontier earlier and was disarmingly articulate about the split-level combat mindset an India-Pakistan cricket game can create.

?In Poonch, we never even used to have to check out the result of an India-Pakistan match. If they won, they would fire a few celebratory shots across. But if they lost, they would make our lives miserable. If they lose tonight, they are really going to pack a punch in their bombardment,? the jawan said. ?Cricket may be a game but for many of us, it is also an expression of national passion.?

Kargil, too, unhooked herself temporarily from the worries of a battle-weary, disrupted life and lapsed into a surreal embrace with cricket.

The few surviving general merchants and public trunk phone operators downed their shutters mid-afternoon to reach their television sets in time for the match.

The taxi stand in the centre of town, usually abuzz with out-of-work drivers lounging in the sun, was deserted.

Wherever there was a television set, there was a group of people glued like Hamlyn rats to the Pied Piper.

Shelling continued to hit Kargil hard all morning and afternoon but suddenly the town seemed to have shut out the battle in its frontyard.

Today?s shelling was focused on the nearby Khurbathang plateau just below Kargil?s television tower, where lie the charred remains of a convoy of road-building trucks and rollers bombed last fortnight.

Two shells also hit the vicinity of the nearby district headquarters near Baroo and one crashed into a garage behind the Siachen Hotel, the only place visitors to Kargil can now stay in.

Splinters flew across the hotel?s rooftops and dissipated in its little patio. But today, the shelling and the intensifying frontier battle were pushed back to the status of asides in street conversations. All chat was centred on prospects of the India-Pakistan clash in Manchester, not the confrontation on the nearby frontier.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of development of thundercloud towards afternoon or evening.
Temperature: Maximum 36.4?C (1?above normal)
Minimum 25.2?C (2?C below normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 97% Minimum 57%
Rainfall: Nil
Sunset: 6.16 pm Sunrise: 4.54 am    

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