War alert by cornered Pak
Neutral China to talk security
US pulls purse-strings on Pak
Captain lay in the snow, playing dead
Macabre death of 4-member family
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, June 14 
Told by Indian Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee that no dialogue is possible unless Pakistan unilaterally withdraws armed intruders from Kargil, Islamabad today let loose its spin doctor to paint the picture of an inevitable war.

But in an indication that the international community is firmly behind India, US President Bill Clinton called Vajpayee this evening and appreciated the restraint shown by India in Kargil in a 10-minute conversation. Clinton said he was also in touch with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to ensure the situation did not escalate further.

Realising that it has to win back the diplomatic initiative, a cornered Pakistan today set alarm bells ringing with its assertion that India?s refusal to return to negotiation is creating a situation where war is inevitable.

Pakistan foreign ministry spokesman Tariq Altaf, known to be the country?s best spin doctor, said if diplomatic efforts failed, ?a war is inevitable?. But he said Islamabad ?will not give up diplomacy?, in an effort to create the impression that Pakistan was being more reasonable than India. ?Our approach is for peace-making and if I sum it up in one word, India is pursuing the policy of war-mongering,? he alleged.

Altaf?s statement followed a stern message from Vajpayee. Addressing a rally in Udhampur, Vajpayee said: ?For the last 22 years, there was peace on this border. You have committed this aggression. You withdraw your troops. Then we are prepared for talks.?

The Prime Minister, who had visited Kargil amid heavy Pakistani shelling yesterday, said Sharif phoned him in Srinagar repeatedly and told him that the situation should not be allowed to escalate and steps should be taken to defuse it. ?I asked him: ?Who started all this??? Vajpayee said.

He added that he had told Sharif that the only way to avoid a costly escalation of the conflict was for Pakistan to restore status quo ante on the LoC.

Vajpayee assured Clinton that India will do nothing to escalate the tension unless Pakistan forced it to open new fronts by resorting to heavy shelling at other points along the border. His remarks are an attempt to convince the international community, particularly Washington, that Delhi is now engaged in combat with the armed intruders in the Kargil sector only to defend its own territory and has no desire to turn this into a full-scale war.

Indicating that Pakistan is trying to raise the level of concern in the international community about the crisis, Sharif told reporters in Karachi: ?We want to have a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir problem but we also know how to defend our interests.?

The Indians feel that the Pakistani gestures of troops-preparedness and attempt to raise the spectre of a full-scale war are meant largely for the international audience.

Since both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers, Islamabad feels a war-like situation will force world powers to intervene. By doing so, it will have achieved its goal of internationalising the Kashmir issue and involving a third party in the dispute.    

New Delhi, June 14 
Indicating its neutrality in the Kargil conflict, China today agreed to establish a security mechanism with India that will give both sides a chance to interact regularly and understand each other?s concerns better.

One of India?s main complaints against China has been its pro-Pakistan bias. Delhi has often protested against the clandestine cooperation between Beijing and Islamabad on the latter?s nuclear and missile programmes.

The Kargil developments and Pakistani foreign minister Sartaj Aziz?s recent visit to Beijing caused concern in India on how China will react to the issue. But with today?s gesture, China has made it clear it will maintain neutrality in the Kargil conflict.

The mechanism for establishing a security dialogue between the two countries was agreed upon after a meeting between Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh and his Chinese counterpart Tang Jiaxuan in Beijing. Details on the head of the mechanism and the frequency of its meetings will be worked out.

The Chinese have also agreed to send a high-level military-cum-diplomatic delegation to India soon to discuss some of the outstanding problems between the two sides, particularly the unresolved border issue.

Indian officials, though not euphoric about the development, pointed out that the decision showed that the normalisation process has been firmly put back on track.

Singh described his dialogue with Tang as ?candid, constructive, friendly and productive?. In his two-hour meeting with the Chinese minister, a number of bilateral issues came up for discussion.

Singh passed on a message from Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, saying that in 1979, Vajpayee, as foreign minister, had started the normalisation process.

Singh arrived in Beijing today in what is being described as a significant visit undertaken to ?normalise? bilateral ties. Singh is the first Indian foreign minister to visit China in eight years. But the importance lies in the fact that the two sides are keen to bury differences which erupted after India conducted the nuclear tests last year.

Pakistani foreign minister Sartaj Aziz visited China on Friday, a day before he came to Delhi for Kargil talks.

But Aziz?s desperate attempt to look for Beijing?s support in its hour of crisis appeared to have ended in a whimper as China refrained from making any pro-Islamabad statements.

Officially, China maintains that India and Pakistan should show restraint and settle the ongoing conflict peacefully.

The Kargil developments and Aziz?s visit to China came up for discussion during Singh?s meeting with his Chinese counterpart.    

Washington, June 14 
The Clinton administration, frustrated by Pakistani intransigence on Kargil, is considering new steps to increase international pressure on Islamabad to withdraw its forces from Kargil.

Thomas Pickering, undersecretary of state for political affairs, left for Beijing today on a mission to repair Sino-US relations but Kargil will very much be on the agenda. Although his main purpose is to explain the mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Pickering will discuss South Asia with his counterparts in Beijing, officials said.

Senior US officials at the state department and Pentagon were in meetings today to discuss new ways to make the Pakistani establishment walk back from the brink. Additional steps could include a threat to stop the funding from the International Monetary Fund which is crucial for the survival of Pakistani economy.

Indian Ambassador Naresh Chandra met Pickering last Thursday to urge the Clinton administration to say publicly what it has been saying privately in order to expose the Pakistani complicity in Kargil. But US officials believe they would be more effective in their goals by using private channels.

The three-point agenda adopted by the international community as expressed in the G-8 statement is very clear ? Pakistan must withdraw the infiltrators, go back to the Line of Control and revive the spirit of the Lahore Declaration. If Washington can get Beijing to sign off on this, Pakistan would be isolated completely.

Having been a former ambassador to India, Pickering understands South Asia and has long been a proponent of improving relations with New Delhi. Additional steps by Washington will come after Pickering has an understanding of Beijing?s leanings on the current situation. US officials have also noted with interest the visit of a Gen. Li to Rawalpindi and are trying to determine the purpose the trip.

But there is a feeling among American officials that India?s extreme reluctance to involve others in the past to mediate on issues, specially Kashmir, leaves them with little leverage. There is also a sense that India comes knocking on Washington?s door when it needs the United States while heaping scorn at other times. ?It is not our responsibility to solve this,? said a senior US official closely involved with South Asian policy.

But by and large Kargil is an ?issue of serious concern throughout the US government? and officials are working on ways to help the parties.

US officials are in possession of the tape and transcript of the intercept between Army chief Pervez Musharraf and his subordinate made public by the Indian government. They consider it authentic and have raised no questions about their veracity, Indian officials said.

US officials denied that they supplied India with the tape as some news reports have speculated. One US official noted that the Indo-US relationship is not at a level where Washington would supply sensitive intelligence information of this kind to New Delhi. Another said that Indian media must not doubt Indian intelligence gathering capabilities.

Except for the Pakistani establishment, no one seems to doubt the authenticity of the intercept. US officials may have scores of problems with Indian diplomats? tendency to indulge in America-bashing but they do not think of India as a country that ?manufactures? evidence. The system is not the kind where a lie or fabrication would sustain for any length of time.    

Drass, June 14 
When he slipped off his snowboots, the captain revealed feet that had gone puce, scraped away by the cold. His soles were blistered and peeling and he had sprained his ankles and hipbone. He could barely walk. ?I am happy just to be back,? he said. ?Several times up there, I was certain it was going to be the end of me.?

He had just returned from a mission up Height 5140, which now appears close to falling back into Indian hands after the success of Tololing. ?We are moving in on the enemy but they are very well entrenched,? the captain said. ?They almost had us. They are very well armed, very well stocked and they still have the advantage of secure bunkers on heights.?

The captain?s two-man mission had taken him right to the top of Height 5140 and he had surprised himself a bit by getting all the way there, considering it is an infiltrator-held peak. ?There seemed to be nobody there but suddenly, they began firing from their bunkers and foxholes and we had no cover.? The captain and his mate, caught unawares, lay in the snow for long hours pretending to be dead. ?It was clear he had us covered with his guns because when I tried to move a little to seek artillery cover on the field phone, he fired. It was a very lucky escape.? The captain did eventually manage to get long-distance artillery fire and used it as cover to make his way back.

What he had to report was, however, worrying for his superiors. They have built three-storeyed, generator-equipped bunkers around the peaks, they have ammunition to last them a year and they have made themselves so comfortable on the heights, some Afghan mercenaries have even brought up their women. Four of them were among those killed in the battle for Tololing over the weekend.

?Often, even sustained artillery fire cannot dislodge them because they dig into the security of their deep bunkers,? said a senior field commander in the Drass sector. ?From the first hand reports we are getting from our boys, it is clear they have been preparing for the intrusion over years. This is not an overnight operation. Neither is it just an infiltration by mercenaries. The planning and execution is being done by Pakistani army regulars.?

But the Indian troops assault on peaks overlooking the critical National Highway 1A is now getting into high gear. Snatching Tololing early on Sunday morning not only earned them a strategic perch from which to consolidate but also give their morale a quantum boost. ?They know it is a matter of time before they are killed or pushed back,? the commander said. ?We have surrounded them and the concerted artillery and infantry assaults of the last couple of days have shaken them badly.?

Height 5140 has three infantry columns closing in now, aided by precision artillery bombardment from batteries in the Drass valley. Jawans are moving bunker to bunker, using grenades, hand-fired anti-tank missiles and even flame throwers to eject infiltrators from their positions.

Units of special group para commandos have been sent in to secure the Marpola peak south-west of Height 5140. Once supremacy over Marpola is achieved, it will be easier to cut off the supply lines of infiltrators on Height 5140. Marpola overlooks the supply routes of Height 5140 and adjoining hill features from the Pakistani side and infantry detachments hope to seal them off with the advantage of Marpola?s heights.

For the third night tonight, multi-pronged artillery fire was aimed at Height 5140 as infantry units closed in. Bofors and medium and small range guns continued targeting enemy pickets and Pakistani artillery positions behind the Line of Control as part of the consolidation effort. But field commanders still felt the gains will be slow to come and the battle long. ?We know we have him cornered, so we will suffocate him, minimising our casualties,? one said.

Conditions, of course, remain hostile, and often impossible, for the jawan on the heights. Always exposed to enemy fire and rather unused to operating at such high altitudes, he is braving heavy odds. The injured captain?s unit, for instance, had arrived from Bihar a week before hostilities began and was immediately ordered to action on the peaks. ?I have had no training in climbing mountains. All I did was climb a hillock during my course days at the National Defence Academy and here I was, shinnying up 18,000 feet under enemy fire,? the captain said.

He had Siachen clothing and the advantage of a pub tent, where he survived a week on cigarettes and chocolates ? ?There was nothing else to eat, the food sent up from base was frozen so hard it was difficult to bite off? ? but his jawans were out in the open snow in sub-zero temperatures without snowboots or down jackets, essential at such heights. ?It is so terrible. We do not even have basic equipment for our soldiers,? he said.? I had snowboots but they are totally inadequate for climbing. It has no grip in the snow and twice I slipped and nearly killed myself without the enemy having to fire a shot.? He still had a sense of humour. But humour is perhaps the weapon you need most to survive here and fight on.    

Calcutta, June 14 
Decomposed bodies of all four members of a family, gagged and hands tied, were found today in their house at Oxytown in Thakurpukur.

Police found the bodies of Bidyut Kumar Pal, 55, wife Manjulika, 50, and daughters Sohini, 21, and Triparna, 18, when they broke open the door after neighbours complained of a foul smell.

Bidyut was a general order supplier and his wife an officer in the Bhowanipore branch of a nationalised bank.

Sohini studied English literature in a south Calcutta college, while Triparna was a higher secondary student.

District superintendent of police A.K. Maliwal declined to comment on the cause of the deaths or whether they were murders for gain. ?Nothing appears to have gone missing from the house,? he said.

The deaths are believed to have occurred on Thursday night. Bidyut?s wife had last attended office on Thursday and neighbours did not see any of the family members after that day.

The bodies were found around 11.30 am today. The police were informed in the morning by Bidyut?s brothers and relatives who were alerted by his neighbours. A crowd had gathered before the house to find out the cause of the overpowering stench.

The police broke the house open and came across Bidyut?s body in the drawing room. He was sitting upright on a sofa in front of the television.

The hands of Bidyut, who was clad in a lungi, were tied together and a bundle of cloth was stuffed in his mouth. The television as well as all the lights and fans in the house were switched off.

In the next room, the police found Sohini and Triparna in nightwear sprawled across a divan, gagged and their hands tied in the same fashion as their father.

Their mother was lying on the floor of the dining room under a laid-out table.

The police, who brought in sniffer dogs this afternoon following pressure from residents of the area, are working on several theories.

They are looking into claims by some neighbours that two persons were found hovering in the area, enquiring about the Pals this morning.

Bidyut had worked in a factory at Cossipore in north Calcutta but was compelled to start his own business after it closed down, the police said. Neighbours said the Pals kept to themselves ever since they moved into the area in 1991.

The police are also examining the possibility of the involvement of some real estate promoters. The promoters, according to Bidyut?s nephew Prabir Pal, had tried to persuade him to sell his house to them.    

Today?s forecast: Mainly cloudy sky. Possibility of one or two showers or thundershower.

Temperature: Maximum 34.9?C (1?C above normal)
Minimum 27.6?C (1?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 95%
Minimum 62%

Rainfall: 1.1 mm

Sunset: 6.19 pm
Sunrise: 4.54 am

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