Pakistan throws bait to India to call off talks
Soldiers? bodies mutilated
China in peacemaker role
Birth in the backwash of battle
Five killed as racing bus skids off bridge
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, June 10 
In a last-ditch effort to wrest the diplomatic initiative from India, Pakistan today handed over mutilated and disfigured bodies of six Indian soldiers who were in its captivity for the past one month.

Islamabad?s provocative move is aimed at creating a situation in India where it could not only create internal disturbances, but also mount enough public pressure on the government to force it to call off Saturday?s talks between the two foreign ministers.

Though India publicly expressed outrage at the treatment meted out to the soldiers, it decided to show restraint and was unwilling to call off the talks that would allow Islamabad to score diplomatic points over it.

Delhi also maintained that while it was committed to holding negotiations with Pakistan on the Kargil crisis, to make the talks ??meaningful?? the Nawaz Sharif government must recall the intruders and vacate the posts illegally occupied by its army.

India feels it has the diplomatic upper hand as the international community has so far backed its stand and blamed Pakistan for triggering the crisis. Delhi, therefore, would not like to do anything to lose the initiative.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee indicated as much when he expressed confidence that Aziz?s trip would be ??fruitful??. At a public meeting in Etawah, he said: ??We want peace and this cannot be one-sided. Even for clapping you need two hands.??

A foreign ministry official echoed Vajpayee and suggested that the talks would be held. ??The visit will be a good occasion for us to bring home the sense of outrage in this country following the Pakistani action,?? he said. But the official added that Delhi would make it clear to Aziz that ??no country can accept this kind of action??.

However, the foreign ministry spokesman, when asked whether today?s development could derail the talks, was guarded in his reply. ??We cannot say anything further unless a post-mortem is conducted of the mutilated bodies,?? he said.

This ambiguity coupled with Delhi?s attempt to send out the signal that it is still exploring various options may stem from the fact that the government is yet to ascertain the extent of ??outrage?? in the country. Most people and political parties are not aware of the details. The reports may evoke a strong reaction and pressure could then mount on the Centre to cancel the meeting.

But if India does so, it could play into the hands of Pakistan and allow Islamabad to get the diplomatic advantage. A cornered Pakistan is desperately looking for international support. Aziz?s decision to visit China tomorrow was taken with this in mind. However, Beijing has so far not given any indication that it would bail out Islamabad from the Kargil mess.

Pakistan could, thus, have a stake in creating a situation which could lead to the cancellation of the talks.

The international community, though willing to buy India?s story on the Kargil flare-up, has asked both Delhi and Islamabad to return to the talks table. Therefore, if India hardens its position, it stands to lose this goodwill. Pakistan will then paint India as an unreasonable side and bolster its argument that it is Islamabad, and not Delhi, which is the hurt party.

But even if India goes ahead with the talks, there are indications that Pakistan would continue to obfuscate the intention behind the intrusion. Aziz, in an interview to BBC in Islamabad, hinted as much. He repeated that the Line of Control was not well defined and this could be raised during his talks with Singh.    

New Delhi, June 10 
India today accused Pakistan of returning six ?mutilated? bodies of soldiers missing from the Kaksar sub-sector in Kargil since May 14, long before Operation Vijay was launched.

Initial reports suggested the bodies were in a terrible state with ?their eyes gouged out, their noses, ears and even genitals chopped off?. In New Delhi, the army said it would ?voice its anger only after the post-mortem reports confirmed what medical personnel on the spot have suggested after preliminary examination?.

The post-mortem was delayed as the aircraft carrying the bodies could not reach the Srinagar base hospital because of inclement weather.

Army spokesman Col. Vikram Singh said: ?On initial examination, the bodies were found to have been disfigured and mutilated. It is an outrageous act and violates international conventions.?

Efforts are being made to have the post-mortem done as soon as possible. The army is considering whether it should take the bodies by road to Leh and then fly them to the Delhi base hospital.

Though Delhi decided to exercise restraint three days before Pakistan foreign minister Sartaj Aziz?s visit, the reaction in Kargil and Srinagar was one of anger.

Army officers said in Kargil they had never heard of such treatment of soldiers. Even after the Bangladesh war, when almost 95,000 prisoners of war were returned to Pakistan, ?every attempt was made to return them unharmed?, an officer said.

?This is a gift by Pakistan to India a few days before its foreign minister visits Delhi,? the officer said.

The soldiers had fallen into the enemy?s hand about 12 days before the air strikes began. On May 14, Lieutenant Saurav Kalia had led a group of jawans to see if reports of mercenaries and Pakistani troops taking position within Indian territory were true. Lt Kalia and five others were captured by the intruders.

Some of the bodies bore cigarette burns, reports said, suggesting they were tortured and killed slowly. Afghan Mujahideen are known for their brutal methods and it is likely that the six had been captured by them.

But as the bodies were returned by the Pakistani establishment and the war was being fought by Pakistani troops, Delhi was unwilling to accept that the torture was the handiwork of Mujahideen who cannot be punished under the Geneva Convention.

The army has not given details of the disfigurement, but it seems that to create an impact in the West, it would have to release photographs of the bodies.    

New Delhi, June 10 
After the US, it will be China?s turn on Friday to play a third party role in the simmering Kargil crisis.

According to well-informed diplomatic sources in the capital, Chinese foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan is likely to impress upon Pakistan the need to keep the Kargil dialogue with India going even if the meeting between foreign ministers Sartaj Aziz and Jaswant Singh on Saturday fails to resolve the crisis.

These sources, privy to the thinking in the Chinese foreign ministry, said the Pakistani foreign minister was being received in Beijing on the eve of his journey to India not as a demonstration of China?s support for Islamabad?s stand on Kargil.

Nor was Aziz being given any opportunity to woo Beijing as feared in some quarters in New Delhi. Instead, the message which will be transmitted to Islamabad will be the need to talk a way out of the crisis and to prevent any escalation while such talks are on.

Sources said China was absolutely convinced ? like the US, Russia, France and several others ? that Pakistan had violated the Line of Control and had sent the Mujahideen into Kashmir.

But the well-considered view of the Chinese leadership is that unlike the US and some others, Beijing should not air this criticism of Pakistan. This is because China believes it has considerable leverage in Pakistan.

Diplomatic sources here are of the view that as in the months after Pokhran II, China and the US are working closely in achieving their common objective of stabilising South Asia.

Chinese diplomats have told their US counterparts that Beijing can be more effective not by apportioning blame for Kargil, but by persuading Islamabad to opt for a diplomatic solution.

Sources said China is likely to advise Aziz to propose a ?working group? on Kargil which will deal with the nitty-gritty of the crisis after the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers have broadly agreed on the need to settle the problem through negotiations.

Indian officials said a ?working group? could well be considered a dirty word here in the context of Kargil, given Pakistan?s earlier insistence on setting up such groups for discussing Kashmir and other issues.

They said India wanted the Kargil problem to be settled quickly and through a one-point agenda: an end to the Pakistani aggression and restoration of the LoC. Given this uncompromising public stand, a ?working group? may be seen domestically as a concession to Pakistan.

But the officials did not rule out a similar mechanism under a different name, which will imply talks between the two armies, aided by diplomats.

Contrary to the fuss in the media about Aziz?s visit to Beijing, officials in South Block are viewing the development with equanimity. This is because they have received assurances in private from Beijing that China is not about to gang up with Islamabad in alienating India.    

The baby was born dead. It?s mother, still unaware the love of her labour was lost, lay on the edge of the rusted, rickety operating table, slowly bleeding into a green plastic bucket. The gas stove they had used to boil water for the delivery was still burning beside her and the potassium drip had fallen to the floor. It?s tube was twisted and the needle in her wrist must have hurt. She looked drained and she was sighing in that large, bare theatre; she sounded louder than she could have been. The door to the labour room in Kargil?s district hospital was ajar and I had strayed in accidentally looking for a doctor to talk to. There was pain in her eyes and shame in mine. She needed help and I was frozen and inadequate.

The lone doctor and the lone nurse had probably been trying to revive the baby but they arrived shortly. In the cold corridor outside the theatre, there were three more women in the throes of labour, their crying children and their worried husbands, a man with a broken leg waiting for the technician to arrive and open the X-ray room, a young girl wrapped in rags and shivering in fever, and another waiting for a glimpse of her mother, the one who had just lost her new-born and didn?t even know.

Most patients weren?t even bothering to ask when they might hope to get attention. For them it seemed solace enough to just be in a hospital and know a doctor was somewhere around. ?We have now got used to little consolations,? said an old man waiting with his pregnant daughter-in-law. ?The hospital is still functioning and we have managed to get here from Kaksar in the middle of this shelling. Isn?t that great??

The backwash of battle has invaded civilian life all along the frontier and left everything disrupted in its wake: essential supplies, transport, schooling, medical care and much else that goes with normalcy. At any given time the Kargil district hospital has just two doctors and a handful of nurses on duty. The administration is having to fight its own little battle against opportunistic absenteeism and laggardness. Not just in the hospitals but in other district establishments as well. ?The shelling has become a convenient excuse for people not to report to work and most of those who do are only marking attendance. You can?t argue too harshly against their concern for safety,? said a senior district official.

They suddenly find themselves engaged on too many new fronts. Large-scale migration has opened a whole catalogue of logistical problems which they can?t even begin to address. People are unhappy and protesting about lack of sanctuary and rations.

But civic problems are taking a backseat as Kargil turns into a novelesque crisis-ridden frontier town buzzing with profiteers fleecing people in distress, and enemy spies and double agents feeding information to people across. ?Trouble brews on every front and we have too much to cope with,? the district official said.

But at the hospital a doctor complained of not even receiving basic support from the administration. ?The one thing we desperately need here is a psychiatrist because people are developing mental disorders from the months of unabated shelling. Children don?t sleep at night and wake up with terrible dreams, men come crying, the rate of premature deliveries and abortions is on the increase. We had several stillborn babies because the mothers have been traumatised. But for months they have ignored the request for a psychiatrist,? the doctor said.

At the auxiliary district hospital set up in the relatively safer Mingee village, manpower and facilities are visibly stretched.

The place is still under construction and most patients must wait and suffer out in the open cold. The OPD is a wind-blown tent erected on a rocky slope where not even furniture can stand, let alone the ailing. There is one doctor who must do all the attending, and two nurses, both eager to escape to the safety of a hospital in Leh.

The small labour room has an excuse for an operating table. Needles and syringes lie distended on a bare shelf. Water, which they use for deliveries, leak from a canister and surgical masks and gloves lie in the grime on the floor. The window has no glass panes and it is shuttered against the wind with ragged strips of gauze.

The place looks more readymade for death than births, though the labour room records, miraculously, say otherwise.    

Calcutta, June 10 
A minibus, trying to outrace another bus on Sukanta Setu in Santoshpur, skidded across the wet asphalt and ploughed through the railings of the bridge into a rickshaw stand 40 feet below, killing five persons and injuring seven this afternoon.

Eyewitnesses said the Santoshpur-bound bus from BBD Bag was trying to overtake another bus on the same route. On a cloudy afternoon dogged by a spitting drizzle, there was little traffic and fewer pedestrians. The drivers of both buses had floored their accelerators, trying to squeeze ahead of each other on the bridge.

?It was around 1.15 pm when we saw the two buses racing. Suddenly, one swerved to the right. As it began to skid, it seemed to go out of control. Then I saw it crash into the railings and disappear. There was a loud bang,? said Satyajit Mondal, an eyewitness.

The bus hung suspended from the bridge before plummeting towards the rickshaw stand below. ?People at the stand saw the bus hanging. They fled. Had they been there when the bus fell, more would have died,? said minister of state for transport Sushanta Ghosh, who visited the spot.

Ghosh said the spot where the bus fell is only a few metres away from the rail tracks. Had the bus struck the electric wires, there may not have been any survivor.

As the bus hit the ground, part of the roof got blown off. Locals extricated the passengers and took them to M.R. Bangur Hospital, where two were declared dead. Three died of injuries. Three of the victims have been identified as Sukharanjan Pal, Hari Saha and Soumya Moitra. Three of the hurt ? the driver, conductor and helper ? are in SSKM Hospital.

As angry residents massed around the twisted wreckage of the bus, five fire brigade engines arrived around 1.35 pm to join the rescue operations. Finding an easy target, the locals let loose their anger on the firemen, greeting them with a volley of bricks.

Fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee said seven firemen were injured. ?One of them is in a serious condition. The fire engines had to retreat,?? he said.

Though eyewitnesses said rash driving had led to the accident, the state government contradicted them this evening. Ghosh said the driver was not trying to overtake another bus. ?We do not know the cause of the accident. An inquiry has been started to find out if there was brake failure or some other technical snag,?? Ghosh said.

The state administration was confused about the number of persons the bus was carrying. The fire minister said there were nine: six passengers, the driver, conductor and helper. ?Five passengers died and one, Pradip Das, survived,?? Chatterjee said.

But South 24-Parganas superintendent of police A.K. Maliwal said there were 11 persons on board. ?We think there might have been another passenger whom we cannot trace,?? he added.

When home minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya visited the spot this evening, the local people alleged that bus drivers race on the bridge everyday.    

Today?s forecast: A few spells of light or moderate rain with one or two heavy showers under the influence of a well-marked low pressure area over coastal West Bengal. Surface wind likely to be gusty.
Temperature: Maximum 31.6?C (2?C below normal)
Minimum 25.9?C (1?C below normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 97% Minimum 69%
Rainfall: 3.3 mm
Sunset: 6.17 pm Sunrise: 4.54 am    

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