Lull on front to test Clinton effect
Gorkhas mourn with call to arms
Tololing heroes thirsting for more
Pak sail into final with lots to spare
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, June 16 
President Bill Clinton?s telephone diplomacy has touched off a war of nerves in the battle for Kargil with India awaiting coherent signals of its impact across the border and Pakistan trying to play down the significance of the call to Nawaz Sharif.

Reflecting the wait-and-gauge attitude, there was a let-up in the flushout operation on the front today. But officially, defence forces said the slowdown was necessary for ?probing enemy positions? and conducting ?reconnaissance missions?.

A day after suffering one of its worst diplomatic setbacks, Islamabad cut a brave front, saying the US directive to the Pakistani Prime Minister to recall the intruders should not be seen as a rebuff because Clinton had also stressed on the need for resolving the crisis through dialogue.

?A dialogue with India to settle the present crisis is what we have been asking for,? Pakistani foreign minister Sartaj Aziz said. He also argued that it was not up to Islamabad to pull back the intruders because they were not under its control.

The brave face is being seen as an attempt at assuring the domestic audience that all is not lost and that Pakistan can still swing international support in its favour in the next few days. This confidence may also stem from the fact that despite the tough talk, neither the US nor any other Western nation has suggested imposing fresh sanctions on Pakistan.

Rumours here about a possible pullout by Pakistani forces following Clinton?s telephone call to Sharif sent the sensex, the Bombay Stock Exchange stock price barometer, soaring 120 points today.

There were, however, no signs of a withdrawal of forces. On the contrary, a Pakistani aircraft was spotted flying close to the Line of Control over Mashkoh Valley. No action was taken against it because it had not entered Indian air space.

The presence of the aircraft made it clear that Pakistani forces were still scanning the area for unguarded territory to push in more intruders and had far from given up.

?We were consolidating today and engaged our troops in mopping-up operations,? army spokesperson Colonel Vikram Singh said. Close combat was avoided as far as possible and even in Batalik, where the army is set to recapture a ridgehead, the emphasis was on probe missions and preparation.

Air strikes were limited to the northeastern sector. Air force spokesman Group Captain Ganesh described today?s operation as ?sanitisation of air space?. This means India is now trying to ensure that Pakistani fighter jets do not violate the LoC.

Col Singh claimed that the Indian successes in Kargil were demoralising the intruders. Though he did not reveal his source of information, unconfirmed reports said the intruders had expressed their despair during wireless communication with the Skardu base in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir after Clinton?s call yesterday.

Col Singh said the intruders had realised that the positions they were occupying were ?untenable?. They were running out of ammunition and rations and, with their supply lines cut off in several places, they were also being denied ?medical cover?.

Despite the slowdown today, New Delhi asserted the army action in Kargil would continue till the intruders were thrown out or chose to leave without an encounter with the Indian forces.

India is not ecstatic about Clinton?s conversation with Sharif. Though it feels encouraged by the US decision to echo the Indian position on resolving the Kargil conflict, New Delhi?s reaction has been cautious.

Foreign ministry officials admit in private that they do not expect an overnight change in Pakistan?s stand. They point out that while the telephone call indicates a hardening of Washington?s position, in concrete terms, the US has done little to turn the heat on Islamabad. It has neither announced a cancellation of loans to Pakistan nor imposed any fresh sanctions.

The officials argue that before Pakistan conducted its tit-for-tat nuclear tests in May last year, the US and its allies had tried everything, from pressure to sops, to hold it back.

But the Sharif government went ahead with the tests, despite knowing well that the action would invite sanctions the Pakistan economy could ill afford. ?If they could withstand the pressure then, what stops them from not giving in to it now?? a senior foreign ministry official asked.

Pakistan continued to raise the bogey of war, accusing India of leading the two sides towards an inevitable confrontation, and tried to drum up support for its stand that the conflict could only be resolved through talks.

Pakistani generals held high-level meetings with corps commanders and announced the country was prepared for any eventuality to deal with the threat posed by India following the re-inforcement of its troops along the LoC.    

Kurseong, June 16 
Fired with zeal and clutching totebags stuffed with snacks, droves of sturdy young men arrived at the local army recruitment office today, barely hours before the body of Havildar Manbahadur Rai of 6/11 Gorkha Rifles arrived from Kargil.

The death of two Gorkha jawans in Kargil has triggered no panic or terror among the people of the hills. Instead, over the past few days, it has set off a procession of youth keen to be serving in the army.

The young men, almost all of them in shorts, started arriving around 8 am, presuming that a recruitment drive was on. Many of them were from neighbouring villages and tea gardens.

The boys, most of whose families have been serving in the army for generations, enthusiastically talked about Kargil and Kosovo (where Britain has recently deployed its Gorkha troops) as they walked two km from here to reach the rifle range ground, where such recruitment takes place.

On Dowhill Road (called Old Hillary Road by the British earlier), one of them was heard repeating a Nepali daily?s headline: ?Ayo Gorkha Kargilma? (a war cry exhorting the Gorkhas to go to Kargil). However, the boys soon learnt that there was no army recruitment in the offing.

Rajesh Thapa, who had come all the way from Sonada, said: ?It?s very unfortunate that we could not join the army today.?

Others, like Deepen Gurung of Kurseong and Ratan Rai of Jangpana, did not leave the ground immediately, hoping that army officers would arrive and begin the recruitment.

The youth, however, could not say how they came to know that recruitment ? which finally never took place ? would start today. ?We have been hearing about it since the conflict began in Kargil,? said Pradip Rai, who is awaiting his Madhyamik results.

Army officials seemed impressed by the response of the youth. But they said only routine recruitment was being held in the region at the moment.

Civil authorities also were not aware of any major recruitment drive. Last week, the GNLF had appealed to the people to join the army in large numbers.

Many former soldiers said this eagerness to join the army reminded them of World War II, when about 40 per cent of the Nepali male population had joined the British armed forces. ?The army provides the Gorkha employment as well as a chance to serve the country,? said a member of the Sainik Board.

At Bagdogra, the body of 34-year-old Havildar Manbahadur Rai was received with military honours by area commander Brigadier Ashoke Vasudeva and other senior officials.

The body was then handed over to Rai?s brother-in-law, a JCO in 11 Gorkha Rifles. Inspector-general of police (North Bengal) K. Das and other civil officials were present at the airport. Havildar Rai is the second soldier from the Darjeeling hills to die in Kargil after Rifleman Linchon Pradhan of 1/11 Gorkha Rifles.    

Matayen, June 16 
The soldiers looked as ragged and battle-weary as they make them look in the movies. Their helmets sat loosely and askew on their heads and their uniforms were limp and unkempt. Their sleeping bags were untidily rolled and their snowboots bore the grime of battleground.

But as they jumped down their trucks, you could make out that for all their blighted state, they were a happy lot. Some of their mates had collected to receive the soldiers by a cluster of newly-pitched tents in the vast camping area and they were hugging and patting each other. A few soldiers had dropped their guns to the ground and were locked in extended embraces.

Among the soldiers were a few who had sustained minor injuries; they were being helped to the military hospital nearby. It was like a meeting of long-lost friends who had never hoped they would see each other again. Everybody seemed glad they were back. But perhaps they were happier they had returned victorious.

These were soldiers returning from Tololing, a key 4,950 metre-high peak overlooking National Highway 1A, which Indian troops recaptured early on Sunday morning. Success at Tololing, where Indian forces are now digging in, provided the army not only a strategic height that will help it cut off the intruders? supply lines more effectively but also a much-needed shot in the arm.

Failure in achieving a single major victory in operation flushout after a month?s battling was beginning to affect troop morale. Initial losses had been heavy and the gains zero. But then came Saturday night?s lightning artillery-infantry assault on Tololing which devastated intruder positions on the mountain and handed the Indian Army its first success.

Since then, the turnaround in the mood at army camps has been palpable.

Field commanders who had earlier been talking of a long and tough campaign at hand are now saying they could evict the intruders in less than a month. ?It took some time for us to move up men and armoury and devise a strategy to knock the enemy off. But now our fellows are on a roll, they could take back their positions as early as the end of June,? an artillery commander near Drass said.

The recapture of Tololing, he thought, was a turning point. ?Once you know you can hit them badly, your jawan becomes more determined to have a go. You taste success and your appetite for it increases.?

Following the victory in Tololing, Indian troops have mounted sustained attacks to take Height 5140, another peak overlooking the Srinagar-Leh road link, and clear the Mashkoh valley of intruders. Precision artillery firing on bunkers around Height 5140 continue round the clock and in Mashkoh, para commandos have been pressed to destroy enemy positions on the heights. ?Now that our infantrymen have clawed closer to the heights, they have a better idea of the enemy?s bunkers and pickets,? said an officer at a Bofors gun position. ?Our artillery has been able to make very accurate strikes.?

And now that troops have secured Tololing, preparations are afoot to launch a major strike on Tiger Hill, yet another peak in the vicinity that is crucial to keeping the national highway safe for traffic. More artillery units have been dug in on the Matayen-Drass-Kargil road and some have been shifted around for Operation Tiger Hill.

The divisional headquarters of the operation has itself been shifted from Matayen to Meena, a few kilometres further on the route to Srinagar. Meena, like Matayen, is a sprawling meadow, flat enough to take a helipad; the shift, soldiers said, had been effected because Meena lies behind a fold in the mountains and is, therefore, considered safer for parking men and equipment, more and more of which are pouring down Zojilla Pass every day.

?They succeeded in giving us a jolt but we are now prepared to show them how badly we can hit them,? said an artillery major pointing to the buildup of troops and guns. ?We are a far superior force and now that we have settled down a bit and are better provided, we can repeat Tololings with greater frequency and ferocity.?    

Manchester, June 16 

Depending on how you view it, eight days can be either too long or too short a period. But the wheel of fortune can turn full circle.

It certainly did for Pakistan, at an emotionally highly-strung Old Trafford today, as New Zealand suffered a massive nine-wicket defeat.

Yet, last Tuesday, the scenes were very different.

The same turf, after all, had seen India post a huge win. However, with Pakistan storming into their second World Cup final in three editions, that loss has become irrelevant.

With one more Kiwi bid ending in the semi-final, the title-round then, on Sunday, will have Asian representation. Requiring 242 to take that momentous step forward, Pakistan did so with ease.

In 1992, too, Pakistan?s entry was at New Zealand?s expense. And, Wasim Akram, who may quit after the final, will be hoping the similarity doesn?t just end there. That Pakistan does a repeat, this time at Lord?s.

Semi-final No.2 is in Birmingham, tomorrow, featuring heavyweights South Africa and Australia. Going by Sunday?s thriller at Headingley, Edgbaston won?t be for the weak-hearted.

?We?re confident of taking on anybody, be it Australia or South Africa,? declared Akram, who has played his last match here, mighty pleased with the knockout effort.

A job well begun is more than half done. With that in mind, Saeed Anwar and Wajahatullah Wasti, a relatively ?new? opening firm, gave the newly-crowned favourites the smashing start needed.

As a bonus, the positive duo re-wrote the World Cup first-wicket record, bettering Gary Kirsten and Andrew Hudson?s 186 by eight runs. Actually, they turned the semi-final into a no-contest.

In any case, the Geoff Allotts lost their edge as brilliant sunshine throughout meant conditions were, for a change, closer to Lahore than Dunedin.

Wasti fell for 84, while Anwar remained unbeaten on 113, matching Rahul Dravid?s feat of back-to-back hundreds in this edition.

Clearly, the Kiwis appear to hold a monopoly on heartbreaks.

At the break, though, feelings were mixed: 241 for seven isn?t a total to be lightly dismissed. That New Zealand got there with 47 sundries shows Pakistan were bent on making things difficult for themselves.

But the Kiwis didn?t exactly make capital of what was on offer. That, too, after gaining what promised to be a headstart by winning the toss on a wicket that played more true than expected.

It?s significant not one batsman got past fifty. Significant, too, that the top-order failed one more time. With that happening, aiming for a berth in the final becomes terribly ambitious.

With everything to gain, New Zealand took to the game insisting they would ?enjoy every minute.? The enjoyment, though, was all Pakistan?s. Twelve runs off MoM Shoaib Akhtar, in the innings? last over, will probably remain the Kiwis? highpoint.

Predictably Shoaib, who has emerged a cult figure, did the initial ? and maximum ? damage. He prised out Nathan Astle with one that didn?t really do much and, then, got Stephen Fleming and Chris Harris.

In fact, the express inswinging yorker (92 mph) that undid the New Zealand captain could well be adjudged as the ball of the tournament. It had that Waqar Younis touch and, in the dressing room, Waqar would surely have nodded approval.

The irony, of course, is that Shoaib?s re-emergence (on the India tour, January-February), has seen Waqar?s eclipse. Fleming, incidentally, is the newest entrant to the yorked-by-Shoaib club. It?s pretty elite, as star members include Sachin Tendulkar and Dravid.

Yesterday, Akram revealed his brief to Shoaib were simple: Go flat out. Shoaib did, though he mixed deliveries with the slower one, finishing with three for 55. Coincidentally, Imran Khan?s instructions to Akram himself, back in 1992, had been similar.

Akram delivered then; Shoaib, too, is getting the breakthroughs. And, support from the other end.

Six months ago, Pakistan cricket was in the doldrums. A string of defeats, including at the hands of Zimbabwe, even led to calls that the national team be disbanded. Now, Pakistan are just one match from possibly regaining the World Cup.

For the start-of-1999 favours, they owe India many thanks.    

Today?s forecast:Cloudy sky. One or two showers or thundershowers. .

Temperature: Maximum 33.5?C (1?C below normal)
Minimum 27.5?C (Normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 95%
Minimum 69%

Rainfall: 16.3 mm

Sunset: 6.20 pm
Sunrise: 4.54 am

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