Truce terms lurk behind hard talk
Take up the gun at any cost. Yes, Sir
Azhar?s last wicket wobbles
Calcutta weather

With the international community backing it to the hilt, a tough-talking India today put the onus on Pakistan to defuse the tension along the Line of Control by recalling the intruders in Kargil.

Pakistan made the usual noises about not being involved in the incursion and said the chances of further escalation along the LoC do not ??seem very strong??.

Refuting the Pakistani line, foreign minister Jaswant Singh said ??de-escalation requires restoration of status quo ante of the Line of Control??. ??The onus is on Pakistan to establish its bonafide,?? he added.

Singh said only two issues were discussed with his Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz: first, the armed intrusion in Kargil and what steps Pakistan proposes to undo it, and second, the barbarity committed by its troops on our soldiers.

Pakistan made some proposals, including expanding the role of the UN Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) to maintain peace along the border and also urged Delhi to restore ??partial?? de-escalation in Kargil.

Pakistan, therefore, while accepting India?s right to throw out intruders, wanted it to desist from using heavy artillery and air power against them. At the same time, it also made an attempt to internationalise the issue by suggesting that the UN group be involved. Aziz said the tension could be defused only if India accepted these proposals.

But Delhi not only rejected the suggestion to involve the UN military group, it also stressed that military action and air strikes will continue till all infiltrators are driven out. ??We don?t believe in partial restoration of normalcy. We are for total de-escalation of tension along the LoC and this can only be achieved after all intruders are withdrawn,?? Singh said. Asked how long India will wait for Pakistan to respond, Singh replied: ??The intrusion has to be undone. Militarily or diplomatically, whichever comes first.??

Aziz described the discussions as ??frank and useful?? and in an attempt to tie India to the talks table, he suggested that the neighbours return to the peace process under the Lahore Declaration.

But not willing to be drawn into such niceties, Singh questioned Pakistan?s intentions. ?? It is a pity that even before the ink on the Lahore Declaration was dry, Pakistan embarked on this misadventure in Kargil,?? he said.

India?s hardline was also evident from its refusal to accept Aziz?s invitation to Singh to visit Islamabad. Delhi indicated it was in no mood for a truce unless the intruders were withdrawn. ??We do not have the luxury to engage in talks about talks,?? Singh said.

Refusing to describe today?s dialogue as negotiations, he said to say so would be a ??misnomer??. He pointed out that the talks were held on the request of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The only concession India appeared to have allowed Pakistan was to set up a meeting between Aziz and Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. Though the details of the half-an-hour meeting were not divulged, Aziz is believed to have conveyed a message from Sharif, urging Vajpayee to take steps to de-escalate the tension.

Vajpayee, while expressing his desire to restore peace with Pakistan, reiterated this would be possible only after Islamabad recalled the intruders.

The Pakistani delegation, comprising Aziz and foreign ministry officials, arrived at 10 this morning. Singh was there to receive his counterpart, but underlining the grim atmosphere, there were no hugs or handshakes. Aziz was whisked away in a limousine waiting at the tarmac to Hyderabad House, the venue of the talks.

Outside Hyderabad House, a group of 70 people raised anti-Pakistan slogans. That they were not chased away immediately by policemen suggested that the government was not averse to letting the visitors have a feel of the ??sense of national outrage?? over Islamabad?s role.

The talks went along predictable lines. Pakistan, while accepting that intrusion had taken place in Kargil, refused to admit its role in it. Instead, it argued that what had happened was nothing unusual as the ??Kashmiri Mujahideens?? were waging a war for the past 10 years. But Delhi rejected the argument.

Aziz also played down the LoC issue, saying that though Pakistan had ??respect?? for it and believed in the ??sanctity?? of the Simla Agreement, it was India which had violated it thrice by unilaterally taking up positions in the Siachen Glacier.

He argued that some parts of the LoC were not properly demarcated and, therefore, it was not proper to accuse Pakistan of trying to alter it.

But India disagreed. ??No question was raised about the LoC in the last 27 years. Why are they raising it now??? Singh asked.    

The young officer was brief and blunt with the bad news. ?It?s a near impossible mission, Sir,? he said, saluting his commanding officer. ?We are working like mules on the heights and dying like dogs.? It was close to midnight and we were camped near an artillery unit. It was dark save when the guns flashed like claps of lightning tearing the ground. Rain and howling winds had pushed the temperatures well below zero; the snow tents fluttered like paper balls in a breeze, perilously close to being blown away. But the officer?s report was more numbing than the weather.

The field gun they had been trying to push up a ridge in the Tololing heights for two days was still stuck on the slopes. ?It?s a heavy gun, Sir,? the officer said, ?and we are having to carry it up a 70 degree gradient. There are no tracks, no mules to carry the load and the enemy is constantly firing from the other side. He is on a height just 400 metres across and we are just like sitting ducks for him.?

The commander sombrely listened and then smiled a sardonic smile. ?That is why it makes my blood boil when I daily hear announcements from Delhi that we have taken this height and captured that peak. Here we are senselessly stuck trying to take a gun up to a point where it will be shot down in five minutes. And they have already been claiming from briefing rooms in Delhi that we have Tololing and Mushkoh. They should realise what we are up against. They should give some respect to the soldier on the front.? The point to which the gun had been ordered was barely half a kilometre from enemy positions and reports from observation posts said the risk of it being blown away were high. But the orders remained unchanged; the gun had to go up.

The commander had a hundred and twenty men on the ridge pushing the gun and ammunition to positions from where they could mount an assault on the enemy-ridden peak. They were having to wade through freezing mountain nullahs by dark ? no frontline operations are possible in daylight for the men are too exposed to enemy fire ? and climb up gravel and snow, often under fire. In places, they were having to tie themselves and their equipment with rope and plough through chest-deep snow, night after night. They had no food ? what was sent from bases down below was freezing to stone ? and they were having to gulp snow to escape dehydration. ?The army is meant to face difficulties and overcome them. That is what a soldier?s training is. We are following orders and we are ready to die. We are doing all that but then higher-ups should sometimes understand logic and common sense,? the commander fumed. His unit had just come from the plains and been ordered to action on dizzyingly cold heights. Most of his jawans had had no opportunity to get acclimatised to the weather on the terrain. They did not know the mountain routes, nor had any idea of enemy positions. But they were manfully lugging a 300-kilo gun barrel and much else over boulders and snow. ?We have the comfort of tents and we are at a much lower altitude. Imagine that jawan trudging in the snow at that height.?

Every now and then, technicians from the signal van would arrive with new grid positions and firing trajectories. They were trying not only to give artillery cover to soldiers climbing up but also to directly hit enemy bunkers and pickets in the mountains. The battery fired all night, the Bofors and medium-range guns blasting the silence and lighting up the rainy night like strobes in a frightening theatre.

News was crackling from a radio in one corner of a dimly-lit tent. ?Reports of heavy fighting on the India-Pakistan border have been received... Indian officials claimed significant gains in the Drass sector where the artillery battle has been intense according to wire reports... Meanwhile, the Pakistani foreign minister, Sartaj Aziz, who is on a visit to Beijing, is likely to meet his Indian counterpart in New Delhi for talks on...? The young officer, tired after his long march up and down the height, quietly wondered what they were going to talk about. ?They are mutilating our soldiers, they are invading our territory and claiming it as their own and we want to talk to them. About what??

His commander, meanwhile, had spoken to his superiors and his orders were clear and as before. The gun had to be taken up at any cost. The message was quietly relayed to the young officer. ?At any cost, Sir,? he said, his voice suddenly crisp. ?We will take it up at any cost.? He rose, saluted and walked out into the thundery night.    

Nottingham, June 12 
Some 25 runs too few against South Africa; 37 sundries ? all no balls and wides ? too many vs Zimbabwe. That?s what went wrong with India.

Less than a fortnight ago, though, the superb win at Edgbaston had raised hopes of the mother of all takeaways actually being taken to India. But the euphoria only lasted till Glenn McGrath?s first spell at The Oval.

Today, the Indians couldn?t even formally bow out with a flourish. New Zealand denied them that satisfaction, authoring a convincing five-wicket victory at Trent Bridge. It has taken the Kiwis to one more World Cup semi-final and jittery tonight will be Australia.

Of course, India?s win over Pakistan won?t be quickly forgotten but leaving everything in the hands of others, specifically Zimbabwe yesterday, was flirting with disaster. That?s one lesson which must be quickly learnt, even as the hunt for scapegoats could gain momentum. Having failed to give direction, barring that Pakistan match, Mohammed Azharuddin may have to pay with his head.

It?s significant that Board president Raj Singh Dungarpur who, not many weeks ago openly advocated Azhar?s cause, sang a different tune this evening. ?The selectors will decide on the captaincy... My own views? Well, at the moment, I have no opinion,? Raj Singh told The Telegraph. Read between the lines and he probably said much.

Such has been the team?s goodwill that the sentiment around Trent Bridge, this morning, was a good side had exited. Not that there was a sympathy wave, but the regret was genuine.

After all, Indian batsmen have had a big hand in making the World Cup a carnival, or close to a carnival, the spin doctors? marketing mantra for the tournament.

Disappointment took the form of many fans not turning up for the Kiwi game. The terraces were far from packed, even though all tickets were bought days in advance.

The squad is set to leave for home on Wednesday. Azhar and Dravid have got permission to stay back. It will certainly be a well-earned vacation for Dravid, the highest rungetter in this edition (461). One isn?t sure the same can be said about Azhar.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. One or two spells of light rain.

Temperature: Maximum 31.6?C (2?C below normal)
Minimum 25.3?C (2?C below normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 100%
Minimum 74%

Rainfall: 16.3 mm

Sunset: 6.18 pm
Sunrise: 4.54 am

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