Debate on turning LoC into border
Bangla bus puts train on track
Akram aces vs Waugh win-chain
Siachen in making on terrain of tragedy
Sohini?s diary provides leads
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, June 19 
As the world?s richest nations search for a solution to the Kargil conflict, they might push India and Pakistan to agree to convert the Line of Control into an international boundary.

On the record, India has always been against such a proposal. But the Kargil conflict and a willingness to accept the fact that the issue has been effectively internationalised have made New Delhi less averse to a debate now.

It feels such an exercise, instead of the earlier eagerness to shy away from global fora, could help it make most of the new situation. The hectic lobbying with the Group of Eight to exert pressure on Pakistan to withdraw the armed intrusion is part of this policy.

The Kargil conflict was discussed by G8 leaders in Cologne last night. The group is expected to ask both India and Pakistan to work for an immediate end to the conflict. But whether it will ask Pakistan to withdraw the intruders or urge the two countries to resume talks will be clear only after a formal statement tomorrow.

Stepping up pressure on G8, foreign secretary K. Raghunath told diplomats it will be ?very difficult for India to show restraint?, if the group does not come out with a strong message to Islamabad.

Officially, India and Pakistan stuck to their known positions. Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee today ruled out any need for mediation, asserting the issue is bilateral, while Nawaz Sharif said he is ready for international mediation, insisting the ?situation in Kargil is linked with Kashmir?.

Sharif said ?our doors are still open for talks? but kept them inaccessible by adding he has no control over the ?freedom fighters? in Kargil and that they will not ?take any order from me?. India has said there can be no talks with Pakistan unless it withdraws all intruders.

Delhi is aware it will continue to be cajoled by the global community to negotiate with Pakistan for an early solution to the Kashmir issue. Experts and many world leaders believe the conversion of the LoC into an international border is the only solution.

The 740-km LoC was drawn as part of the Simla Agreement in 1972. Despite skirmishes, both sides had respected the LoC till now. But the Kargil intrusion has raised questions about the LoC?s viability.

However, India has made it clear it honours the sanctity of the LoC and will make no attempt to cross it. Army and foreign ministry officials went out of their way today to stress this.

But any proposal to turn the LoC into a formal boundary is certain to raise a storm on both sides of the border. In India, the idea has come up from time to time but has never been pursued officially. Besides, a resolution has been passed in Parliament saying India will try to retrieve the territory held illegally by Pakistan.

However, many policymakers have now started exploring the conversion option, but with extreme caution. ?Though this can be one of the solutions to resolve the Kashmir dispute, it cannot be brought about overnight,? a senior official conceded.

The informal offer to convert the LoC into a boundary was first made by Indira Gandhi to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at the Simla summit. But it did not work out then because Bhutto could not muster support in Pakistan.    

Dhaka, June 19 
Plugging into the slipstream of goodwill generated by the launching of direct bus services, India and Bangladesh today began to work towards introducing rail links as they addressed an array of economic issues key to further consolidation of bilateral relations.

Issues ranging from widening market access, multi-model communications links, infiltration and border management to Kargil figured in Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee?s separate meetings with Bangladesh President Sahabuddin Ahmed and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Vajpayee, accompanied by foreign minister Jaswant Singh, railways minister Nitish Kumar, communications minister Kabindra Purkayastha and others, reached here this morning to receive jointly with Hasina the bus that was flagged off in Calcutta.

Indian officials said rail links, which existed decades ago, would probably be revived in the next few months. ?It should be possible to operate trains initially for movement of goods traffic through Benapole and Petrapole before the year is out. There have been a convergence of minds between the two governments on introducing multi-model communications links, including rail, sea and telecom,? an official said.

The 35-minute meeting between Vajpayee and Hasina was structured in two compartments, one without aides and the other with ministers and key bureaucrats. Although no confirmation was available, Kargil and a few delicate issues are believed to have dominated the meeting.

Vajpayee, on his maiden visit to Bangladesh as Prime Minister, and Hasina are scheduled to jointly make an announcement tomorrow on how the countries planned to intensify economic cooperation. In tangible terms, the two Prime Ministers are expected to announce one or two agreements on credit and related issues.

Hasina used the occasion to bring into focus Dhaka?s concern at the growing imbalance of its trade with India and pressed Vajpayee to devote attention to evolving a corrective mechanism soon.

Though such a mechanism will help Hasina tackle her detractors who cast aspersions on her equations with Delhi, India is unlikely to put it in place in a hurry.

Trade was the buzzword again at the glittering joint reception in the ornate Osmani auditorium, organised to mark the arrival of the first bus. ?We have sought duty-free access for some of our products to India,? Hasina said.

Later, Vajpayee indicated he was alive to Dhaka?s concerns as he said he did not believe, unlike certain sections in India and Bangladesh, that bilateral relations were a zero-sum game. ?The gain of one side is necessarily a loss for the other ? it is a very limited view,? Vajpayee said, offering a toast to Hasina at the banquet.    

London, June 19 
Wasim Akram sees an opportunity for Pakistan to stand a foot taller. Steve Waugh, always less emotional and extravagant, simply sees it as one way of spreading joy around Australia.

It?s tomorrow?s World Cup final we are talking about, the fourth at Lord?s but, this one, after 16 years. For the finalists, it?s sudden-death.

The margin of error, in any case, is thin. In a high-voltage World Cup final, there?s none. Nerves are bound to be tight which is why both Akram and Steve are advising players to relax, not get too worked up.

Perhaps, that?s easier said than done. But, then, captains aren?t only around for the toss. Passion, of course, won?t be at a premium. As for class, there will be enough for everybody to claim a share: Shane Warne and Saqlain Mushtaq; Shoaib Akhtar and Glenn McGrath; Michael Bevan and Saeed Anwar... Akram and Steve as well, both in their fourth (and last) World Cup.

It should be a cracker of a final and the team that avoids a Klusener-Donald act should take the trophy. The build-up hasn?t seen a war of words, thankfully, but the captains have engaged in verbal shoving.

Last evening, Akram nonchalantly dismissed talk of the Australians being tougher in the mind. A few minutes later, at a media conference, Steve actually laughed at that.

However, their maturity surfaced when both, speaking separately, discouraged attempts to revive the sordid Mark Waugh-Warne-Salim Malik affair. But, then, throughout this World Cup, Akram and Steve have left their stamp: Bold with decision-making and beautiful in leading from the front.

While everybody accepts Pakistan are more gifted, have much more flair as opposed to the more workmanlike Australian approach, the latter?s run has been remarkable. Undefeated in six matches on the trot (five wins and one tie), the Australians are on an absolute high. That Australia have come through two back-to-back epics can only offer immense strength, even as the gut feeling in these parts favours Pakistan. At times, overwhelmingly.

Ladbrokes, though, are quoting both at the same price: 10 to 11. It will, after all, be a close call. Forget reputations and the head-to-head advantage (Australia up 25-22), it?s tomorrow?s performance that will really count. Precious little else.

So, despite confident body-language, both captains have kept open an ?escape? route: They?ve stressed the predictable ? that form over the 100 overs will determine whether the World Cup goes to Lahore or Melbourne.    

Aside from playing mother to invention, necessity also is half-sister to priority. Or so it would seem on this battlefront. There are several reasons why the progress of Indian troops in the Batalik sector has been less spectacular, indeed sluggish, compared to Drass and its whereabouts.But the chief one is simply this: Armed intrusions in Drass need greater attention because National Highway 1A, the lifevein to Kargil and Ladakh, needs to be kept secure.

Batalik has its own strategic demands and importance but they aren?t as pressing as the need to shut out any threat to NH 1A, which is the spine on which essentials reach Kargil and Ladakh. Batalik?s only highway is the turbulent Indus, which carries only silt and which anyway flows into Pakistan.

?I wouldn?t say we are keeping Batalik on hold while NH 1A is cleared up and secured but surely once the operations around Drass are completed, Batalik will receive greater attention in terms of manpower and machine,? said a field commander stationed with his artillery unit on a perch above the Indus short of Batalik. ?We may take longer to secure our positions in this sector but eventually, we will.?

The question niggling commanders on this hard frontier ? the land?s lay it is just rock and steep height and dust and the unruly Indus hurtling ? is not whether Indian troops will recover their positions; the question furrowing their brows is: What after victory? Batalik is remote and sparsely populated and inhospitable. Hitherto, the army has vacated its posts in the region during winters. But the problems of the summer of 1999 may have made them abandon plans of winter luxury. Batalik may have to be manned round the year. Which means a vast Siachen that will make men and resources bleed.

As it is, the battle on the ridges of Batalik is the fiercest and the most risk-fraught in the current conflict.

This sector has probably taken the highest casualties and proffered the lowest gains so far. Of course, it is high on stories of gallantry and sacrifice after Major S. Saravanan, who died fighting for the Jubbar ridge.

Although our jawans can see his body, it has still not been recovered because of the intensity of the battle. Batalik has another hero in Captain Amol Kalia, who fell to sniper fire trying to take a post that has now been named after him. But there are also a hundred untold tragedies happening on the craggy heights ? porters who have lost their voice and memory because of the shock of consistent shell-pounding, jawans whose renal systems have packed up because of dehydration on the snowy battleground, yet more who have been injured or killed.The campaign for the ridges in Yaldor, Jubbar and Kukarthang, launched more than a month ago, is still proceeding painfully slowly, if at all. ?Initially, we took heavy casualties because we were knocked back and had to resort to knee jerk responses. But now we are back on our feet and are rolling on. There is only one way the battle can go: Ours,? said an artillery major. ?At first, we were just responding but now we have become pro-active, we are making him (the enemy) respond.?

The modus of war in Batalik is much the same as Drass ? infantry on a slow crawl up the mountains with help from artillery fire from behind. But there the similarity ends. Where Drass is a wide open valley with a clear view of enemy positions even from afar, Batalik is a narrow gorge sandwiched between sheer cliffs that fold sharply along the Indus? course.

Drass has enough room on its plains to park all of the army?s artillery units and more. In Batalik?s narrow mountain ledges, there is barely space enough to position a single battery of field guns at one place, let alone an unit. At one point on the Khaltsi-Batalik road, 105 mm field guns are positioned so close they almost seem targeted at each other. At another, the space was enough for just one Bofors gun, though the situation demands more.

Counter-bombardment is harder here than in Drass ?perhaps because of the constricted space between the mountains, the fire rings and echoes harder too. ?The enemy is still quite well entrenched here (in contrast to Drass) and he is not deserting his positions contrary to some reports,? said an artillery officer of the enemy, ?Proof of our slow progress and their continued ascendancy on the ridges is that we have not been able to recover Major Sarvanan?s body yet. We are slowly moving to equal heights, but they still have the advantage of the topography.?

But in the past few days, the army has employed surprise as one of its chief weapons on the front: Para commandos have been dropped behind enemy positions in a bid to cut off their supplies and choke them. ?We are now surrounding them from at least two sides if not more,? said a field commander.

Air strikes, he confirmed, had not worked in the narrow gorge ? or even on the ridges where the enemy is equipped with such weapons as Stinger missiles and hand-held anti-aircraft missiles ? but he hoped the para operations would hit the enemy where he least expected to be assaulted.

Their best hope, though, would still be quick mopping up in the Drass sector so Batalik can demand priority and get what it needs.    

Calcutta, June 19 
A confidential diary of Sohini Pal, ferretted out by the police from the dusty recesses of a writing bureau in her Oxytown home, may provide the vital breakthrough in cracking the murder case that the police are desperately looking for.

Last Monday the putrefied bodies of Sohini, her parents and her sister were discovered with their hands tied and mouths gagged in the Pal house in Thakurpukur. Preliminary investigations had revealed that their throats had been slit. They had apparently been murdered a few days before.

The police, despite tracking two leading trails ? one a romantic angle which links Sohini with her tutor and the other a promoter?s hand in the crime ? have not made any headway on the identity of the killers.

Today, with the help of a host of names recovered from the diary the police have started fresh enquiries into the ?connections? of the 21-year-old girl.

?We believe that Sohini had befriended some undesirable people who may have been behind the murders,? said a senior police officer investigating the case. ?With the names we have got and comments about some people in that diary, we believe we have fresh ammunition to move ahead with our investigation.?

For starters, the police today called up a few of the people whose names and telephone numbers have figured in the diary. ?They have provided us with some leads, but we cannot reveal anything at the moment for the sake of the investigation,? the officer said. ?But rest assured that the culprits will not be able to get away scot free now. The discovery of the diary was a vital breakthrough.?

?These persons are also informing us about how they got introduced to the girl and how much they knew about her activities,? the officer said.

The official also said the diary had revealed the name of a ?middle-aged lady from Behala? who is providing ?vital information? in solving this case.

So far, investigations have revealed that Sohini had a romantic relationship with her middle-aged tutor. The tutor?s wife on learning of the affair had even filed for divorce. The police have also question the tutor.

The tutor has denied his involvement with Sohini and described as an ?entirely personal matter? his wife?s decision to file for divorce.

Investigations also revealed that there may have been another man in Sohini?s life, who was also well known to the Pal family. ?It could be a murder for revenge. We are checking the whereabouts of some people at the time of murder,? a police officer said.

Sources in the South 24-Parganas district police and CID said two separate teams were formed to investigate the murder. ?Investigations have narrowed down to two angles. Sohini?s personal life and her father Bidyut?s, business deals,? a CID inspector said this evening.

Sleuths suspect Bidyut was involved in some shady deals. Investigators are now working on the information that Bidyut Pal was threatened by some unknown persons few days before the murder.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of one or two spells of light rain.
Temperature: Maximum 32.1C (2?C below normal)
Minimum 26?C (1?C below normal)
Relative humidity: Maximum 95%
Minimum 72%
Rainfall: 7.2mm
Sunset: 6.21 pm
Sunrise: 4.54 am

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