Pak springs China trap on talks-eve
Azhar, Akram in role reversal
Double-edged US Bill for India
Girl falls into water chamber
Not an operation, but battle of Drass
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, June 9 
Under pressure from the international community, particularly the US, to respect the Line of Control and recall the armed intruders, Pakistan today fell back on time-tested ally China to bail it out of the Kargil mess.

Catching Indian leaders by surprise, Islamabad said foreign minister Sartaj Aziz will visit China on Friday before arriving in Delhi for talks the next day.

The move is part of a set pattern in Pakistani diplomacy. Islamabad has always been friendly with Beijing, but inched closer after Pokhran II. Soon after, Pakistani foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmed visited China and within weeks, Islamabad conducted its own nuclear tests. Before the Kargil build-up Pakistani army chief Parvez Musharaf, too, had made a trip to China.

Aziz?s visit to Beijing is aimed at achieving several objectives. First, to upstage Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who is scheduled to be there on June 14. Second, it re-establishes China as a major stabilising factor in the region. Third, if Pakistan has to grant concessions to India, it can tell its people that the decision was taken after consulting the Chinese leadership.

Beijing has so far stayed out of the Kargil developments. Though Singh recently claimed that Beijing supports India?s stand, China has officially only expressed concern. The Chinese media has criticised the role of Indian troops.

Singh, though not very clear about what offer Aziz will make, had a brain-storming session with foreign ministry officials on what to expect during the talks.

In case the talks fail, the Indians have drawn up a strategy centring around a media offensive to sell its line that the onus is on Pakistan to defuse the tension. Singh will meet the press tomorrow and follow it up the next day with a question-answer session at the Foreign Correspondents? Club.

Though Pakistan insists it might not limit itself to the ??narrow?? Indian agenda, the increased heat from the US has alarmed Islamabad. Keeping up the pressure, the US President?s special assistant, Bruce Reidel, blamed Islamabad for the Kargil incursion and asked it to recall the intruders and restore status quo on the LoC.

Officials here feel the first indication of whether Pakistan would make any compromise may come from Aziz?s statement in Beijing. Without admitting its involvement in the intrusion or diluting its commitment to the Kashmiri cause, Pakistan could ask the ??Kashmiri Mujahideen?? to withdraw. Aziz could also suggest the setting up of a bilateral commission to look into the intruder problem.

PM to visit Kargil

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee will visit Kargil on June 13, defence minister George Fernandes said.    

Manchester, June 9 
Call it the tale of two captains, or give it another label, but the ones to gain ? and lose ? most from the World Cup are Mohammed Azharuddin and Wasim Akram.

No wonder, then, both responded somewhat uncharacteristically after last evening?s game at Old Trafford.

India?s 47-run win, after all, could see Azhar emerge the biggest beneficiary while Akram may be the biggest loser if the result eventually keeps Pakistan away from a semi-final berth.

Azhar rarely acknowledges contributions from individuals, but showered encomiums on Venkatesh Prasad. Akram, on the other hand, fired a missile at his own teammates.

?We are making things difficult for ourselves and we have to get used to occupying the crease for 50 overs,? is what Akram spat.

As an indictment, it was very strong, but Akram knows only too well that anything short of winning the World Cup ? or, at least, making the final ? could have severe repercussions.

One is, of course, talking about the match-fixing inquiry. Victories in India and in Sharjah are already history. Today, what matters is just this World Cup.

It?s significant that the camaraderie in the Pakistan dressing room is generally shortlived: the music is sweet only as long as the team is winning. Akram, one supposes, knows that well enough.

To dismiss three defeats in a row ? the sequence beginning with the loss to Bangladesh ? merely as the law of averages catching up would be too simple.

Azhar?s problems are different. Till recently, he only had Sachin Tendulkar to contend with. However, with Ajay Jadeja coming good as stand-in captain during the tri-series at home and in Sharjah, Azhar also has to reckon with the Jadeja factor.

India may not still make it to the semis, but yesterday?s victory and Azhar?s own leading-from-the-front-effort could just keep Azhar-baiters at bay.

Indeed, Old Trafford may have done much more than giving India two points and denying them to Pakistan.

Azharuddin turned philosophical after the win, saying ?patience? is his mantra, adds PTI.

?Patience has no companion and so I don?t get too worried,? he said. Azhar, who rediscovered his form held two catches, said he was not affected by the criticism of his captaincy.

?As long as my teammates are happy and as long as I think I have done my best, I don?t get affected.? When it was pointed out that his bowling changes in the match were praiseworthy, the Indian captain was quick to interject: ?I am thankful somebody said so.?

Akram admitted his side was not comfortable in chasing a target: ?I agree, but I think it is bit of a psychological thing with us. Once we win one game chasing, we should be all right.?    

Washington, June 9 
Doing a political about turn within two weeks, Senator Sam Brownback pushed through his amendment that suspends US sanctions against India and Pakistan for five years, repeals the Pressler Amendment against Pakistan and allows for the possile sale of dual use items.

It also directs the Clinton Administration to reconsider and rationalise the ?entities list? which bans 200 Indian government and private companies from trade with the US. The most significant gain for India would be in the resumption of World Bank lending which has been restricted since the sanctions were imposed last May.

In a warning to Pakistan, the bill directs the administration not to reward any party that threatens peace and security in Jammu and Kashmir, a direct reference to Pakistan?s support of terrorists.

The timing of Senator Brownback?s move surprised many observers in Washington specially because of the current tensions in South Asia but there was no immediate comment from his office.

The Clinton Administration is not fully behind this bill because it takes away some of its negotiating leverage with India and Pakistan. State Department officials have insisted all along that they can re-impose sanctions under other laws even if the Brownback amendment becomes law.

The amendment was attached to the Defence Appropriations bill and was passed with ?unanimous consent? last night, well-informed sources said. Brownback?s staffers did not even have a number for the amendment because of the hurried manner in which developments happened. The bill must pass through the House of Representatives and be signed by President Bill Clinton to become law.

Staff members in Senator Brownback?s office were not available to explain the sudden change of tactics because the senator had withdrawn his amendment last month, citing the tension in Kargil. But Capitol Hill watchers had then said that the real reason behind the senator?s withdrawal was a lack of support in the Senate not the Kargil conflict.

Senator Brownback had criticised India for sending aircraft to take out the infiltrators and escalating the situation in a speech while withdrawing his amendment. But over the past two weeks the US business community got into the act, lobbying various senators and getting key Democratic opponents to cross over and support the Brownback amendment.

The US-India Business Council, a group of prominent American CEOs, is believed to be the prime force behind the passage of the amendment. Senior board members consulted senior senators and staff members, convincing them of the need for the sanctions suspension.

The repeal of the Pressler Amendment, however, is bound to cause consternation in New Delhi specially when India is engaged in a massive military operation to drive out Pakistan-backed infiltrators. The Pressler Amendment, which suspended US military and economic aid to Pakistan because of its nuclear programme, has acted as a check on the US-Pakistan relationship.

Removing the Pressler Amendment at this time will send the wrong signal to Islamabad, analysts said.    

Calcutta, June 9 
Civic authorities tonight called off the search for a nine-year-old girl who fell into an octagonal chamber at the Palta waterworks last evening.

Rimpi Sarkar and two other children climbed onto the chamber while playing in the works area, a highly-protected zone.

The mishap occurred when the girl stepped onto the check-plate, which gave way under her weight, Chanchal Ghosh, a member of the mayor?s council, said.

?The plate had rusted following years of exposure to chlorine and collapsed when the girl stepped onto it. Attempts to rescue her last night were futile,? Ghosh said.

Rimpi is the daughter of Tapan Sarkar, a CMC employee in the filter bed section of the works, whose quarters are located nearby.

The octagonal chamber has eight inlets and five outlets, the diameters of which range between 32 and 72 inches. The purpose of the chamber is to regulate water pressure flowing to the Tala tank 26 km away in Calcutta.

Senior engineers of the waterworks said the girl could have died instantly as the water pressure inside the chamber is as much as 3.5 kg per sq cm. ?It would have been like a thousand hammers pounding her body the instant she fell 28 feet below into the churning waters,? one engineer said.

They fear that the body may have disintegrated because of the pounding and the high presence of chlorine in the water. ?It would be impossible to trace the body,? the civic authorities said late this evening. Water was released to the city from the Palta waterworks in phases today to facilitate the search.

This is the first time in the 135-year history of the Palta waterworks that an incident of this nature has taken place. However, this is the third fatal incident in the past 16 months linked to civic structures. While a boy had died after falling into a manhole at Ultadanga, another lost his life inside an open reservoir at Girish Park.

?They (the authorities) are totally to blame for yesterday?s incident on at least two counts,? said a senior CMC executive.

?First, how did children gain access to the chamber when even unauthorised adults are not allowed to enter the water treatment plant. What were the 150-odd security staff at the waterworks doing when the incident took place? Second, why was the check-plate not examined and replaced from time to time??

Commissioner Asim Barman and mayor-in-council member (conservancy) Kanti Ganguly said the possibility of the water becoming contaminated was ?extremely negligible?. Tests on water samples have found no contamination, Barman said.    

Every day, the face of Drass changes. Every day, it gets more smashed and scarred and every day it acquires a more menacing countenance. The mud and timber structures of this once-lively valley hamlet burn and crumble one after the other. And more and more soldiers eddy on its blistered heart. They will probably have to alter the way they have hitherto described Drass. It is advertised as the second coldest inhabited place on earth. Cold it still is, whipped by icy winds even in mid-June, but it has no inhabitants anymore.

As the core of operations to rid the Tololing heights and the Mashkoh valley of infiltrators, Drass has taken the brunt of the pounding. But it has also been the launching pad of the most sustained attack on enemy positions. ?When history is written some day, this battle is big enough to have its own place and name in the books as the Battle of Drass,? said a senior officer who has been commanding two gun positions in the vicinity. ?It is proving more engaging than we ever thought. We are not just fighting a ragged group of mercenaries, we are up against regular Pakistani army. This is not an operation, this is a battle.?

The undertug of ire and disappointment is strong among officers and jawans alike at their failure to secure Tololing and Mashkoh speedily. The enemy has used the advantage of heights optimally and pushed back any major infantry assault. All through last week, repeated attempts were made by infantry units to take Height 4,950, Height 5,140 and Tiger Hill but all in vain.

Some jawans died chilling deaths on the slopes, thrown off into the abyss by rocks rolled from the top or shot without having had an opportunity to fire because both their hands were busy trying to climb up.

But there are signs now that the army is altering its strategy in the Drass sector. Infantry assaults have been suspended for the moment because of zero gain and heavy losses, and the quanta of artillery pounding multiplied several fold.

The Tololing peaks are now under simultaneous three-cornered shelling from Drass, Matayen to its southwest and Thasgam to its northeast.

?The idea,? an artillery soldier at a Bofors position near Thasgam said, ?is to debilitate them on the peaks, blast off their cover and communications and then launch an infantry mission.? One of the problems with infantry assaults so far was that enemy concentrations on the peaks were in excellent radio/phone communication and were able to alert each other and then give fire cover to repel infantry jawans. ?We have to break their communication links. That will make it easier for us to take the peaks one after another,? the gunner said.

The Drass valley has become an awesome artillery arsenal. More Bofors guns have been carted up the Zojila Pass and been positioned along Drass? flanks and in Matayen and Thasgam. Medium-range guns, smaller field guns attached to Jongas like carts to horses, and mortars have sprouted like weeds in spring.

And increasingly, artillery is using multi-barrelled rocket launchers (MBRLs) to score precision hits. MBRLs, which can fire up to 40 rockets in quick succession and have shoot-and-scoot capability, were firing at targets in the Tololing heights all afternoon from various points in the Drass valley.

?Last night we got a heavy pounding,? a young soldier attached to an MBRL unit said as he fed the sockets with missiles a metre-and-a-half long on the back of a 10-tonne truck. ?But this afternoon, our pounding has been incessant and we have feedback that some enemy pickets on the top have been busted. Our observation posts have reported enemy soldiers abandoning their pickets and fleeing.?

Direct shelling of enemy positions on overhanging peaks has been on for the past couple of days and air strikes, too, have resumed in this sector to strafe and blast out the infiltrators from their perches. But most soldiers agree it will take more time ? and sustained artillery pressure ? before the peaks are safe for a final infantry assault.

Already quite flattened and charred by the shellfire from across, the face of Drass will take on more changes yet. All for the worse.    

Today?s forecast: Mainly cloudy sky. Possibility of one or two spells of light rain accompanied by thunder.
Temperature: Maximum 35.4?C (Normal)
Minimum 28.3?C (1?C above normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 100% Minimum 67%
Rainfall: 22.8mm
Sunset: 6.17 pm Sunrise: 4.54 am    

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