Pakistani plane shot down over Rann
Scramble for diplomatic points
Intruders cling on to two peaks
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Aug. 10 
Three weeks after the end of the undeclared war in Kargil, India today shot down a Pakistani naval reconnaissance aircraft which allegedly veered 10 km into airspace over the Rann of Kutch.

Islamabad said the plane was within its territory, and claimed 16 servicemen were killed when it was shot down. Each country said the wreckage was on its territory.

New Delhi rejected a Pakistani proposal of sending international observers to the crash site to ascertain whether the aircraft had breached Indian airspace. ??The plane which was shot down had not come with peaceful intentions,?? defence minister George Fernandes said.

Tossing aside India?s allegations, Pakistan foreign minister Sartaj Aziz said the plane ? one of the four Dassault Atlantique 1 anti-submarine reconnaissance planes in its armoury ? was on a training mission and warned Delhi that Islamabad reserved the right to respond.

??This blatant and unprovoked act of military aggression against an unarmed aircraft is a flagrant violation of international norms,?? Aziz said.

??Pakistan reserves the right to make an appropriate response in self-defence.??

The foreign minister said scattered pieces of the aircraft were found two km inside Pakistani territory. Pakistan?s navy distributed still photographs and video pictures of parts of the smouldering wreckage from an unidentified location near Badin.

Around the same time, the Indian air force salvaged the wreckage and flew it to Delhi for inspection. The salvage operations were carried out in the marshy areas of Kori Creek in the Kutch region. Mi-17 helicopters were pressed into service to spot the remains of the plane.

The entire Western command, which stretches from the Maharashtra coastline to Siachen in Ladakh, has been put on high alert. ??All three defence wings are on maximum alert,?? Fernandes said at a news conference in South Block.

The minister brushed aside fears that the incident could trigger another conflict between the nuclear neighbours. ??As of now, there is no possibility of fresh escalation, but we are prepared for any eventuality,?? he said.

The military establishment here claimed it could not provide exact figures about the number of personnel dead and the nature of weapons the aircraft was carrying. But Pakistan said the aircraft had 16 men on board and ??all are presumed dead??.

The incident coincided with the expulsion of an Indian diplomat, Madan Mohan Jetly, from Islamabad. But Pakistan said the expulsion was not related to the shoot-down.

The clash over the Rann began at 10.57 am when ground radars, on alert since the Kargil conflict, reported that a Pakistani plane had violated Indian airspace. Two MiG-21s took off from the Naliya air base in Gujarat and ordered the Pakistani aircraft to turn back and leave.

But, Fernandes said, instead of going back, the Pakistani pilot kept moving into Indian airspace. He was told to land on Indian territory, but the pilot did not respond.

The defence minister claimed that the MiG-21 pilots repeatedly warned the Pakistani navigators. ??It appeared that the Pakistani plane was in a combative mood and was charging at our aircraft obviously to use its firepower. As a result, one Indian MiG was forced to fire an air-to-air missile. One of the Atlantique?s engines was hit and it flew for a few kilometres towards the border before crashing into marshy terrain, two km inside Indian territory,?? Fernandes said.

India immediately informed Pakistan of the incident. A couple of hours later, the Pakistanis put out a story that one of their aircraft had crashed following an engine snag.

Later, after a conversation between the two directors-general of military operations, Pakistan revised its narrative and said one of its planes had been shot down inside its own territory by India.

The Pakistanis were swift to demand international mediation, which the Vajpayee government, facing polls in a month, rejected. Delhi said since the wreckage had fallen on Indian territory, there was no question of sending any third party observer.

Fernandes said the tension continued through the day with Pakistani helicopters continuing to breach Indian airspace.

Indian MiGs and choppers that flew in to intercept them had to fire and force them back into Pakistani territory.

Later in the afternoon, by the time it was established that the wreckage had landed in the saline marshes close to Sir Creek, bigger choppers flew into the area to hover over the spot and make arrangements to drag out the remains of the aircraft.

The air force said there had been eight similar intrusions in the same area over the past three months. The spokesman clarified that on all previous occasions, the Pakistanis had flown back to their own airspace after being warned.

But today?s incident was different because the Atlantique kept coming without paying attention to Indian warnings. The Atlantique has a substantial weapons storage capacity, including nine Mark 44 torpedoes, 12 Mark 11 depth charges, four Exocet 12 missiles, two Martel anti-shipping missiles and nine Mark 19 mines.

During the initial stages of Operation Vijay, Pakistan had shot down an Indian fighter plane which had gone to rescue an aircraft that had developed a snag. Ever since that incident, the air force is said to have been looking for an ??excuse to hit back??.    

New Delhi, Aug. 10 
Immediately after the downing of the Pakistani surveillance aircraft, Delhi and Islamabad began a diplomatic scramble to get on the right side of the world community.

Pakistan, acting very much the aggrieved party and moving rapidly, released pictures of the wreckage to prove that its aircraft was shot down on its territory by India.

By late tonight, the pictures were being put out for the world to see by the foreign electronic media. Simultaneously, envoys of the US, China, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union were briefed by the foreign ministry on the incident. Foreign minister Sartaz Aziz promptly despatched letters to the UN secretary-general and head of the Organisation of Islamic Conference, urging them to condemn India.

New Delhi, seeking to offer quite the opposite evidence, flew back wreckage to Delhi.

The Indian ambassador in Washington, Naresh Chandra, apprised the US state department of Delhi?s version. South Block also alerted its missions in important world capitals to clarify to the international community why it had to shoot down the aircraft.

India warned Pakistan that it would not brook any attempts to salvage the wreckage from its side of the border. It refuted claims that the wreckage had fallen on Pakistan?s territory.

The tough talk is likely to go down well with the people in the run-up to the elections, but it might bring back global pressure on India to resume dialogue with Pakistan.

There was already evidence of this in a US statement. State department spokesman James P. Rubin said: ?Such incidents...illustrate the need for the two countries to resolve their differences through dialogue.?

In a possible signal that the diplomatic balance may be tilting slightly away from India, Rubin said he believed Pakistan had met Indian conditions for a dialogue by pulling out the intruders from Kargil. Rubin did not see the US playing any role now in getting the two countries to talk.

Aside from the contrasting claims on the wreckage, India and Pakistan were locked in a dispute over interpretation of an agreement under which they had undertaken to respect each other?s airspace and not intrude into each other?s territory.

Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said the agreement stipulated that neither side would fly any military aircraft or helicopter within 10 km of each other?s boundary.

?The intrusion by the Pakistani aircraft into Indian airspace and its defiance of warnings by Indian fighter jets was a clear violation of this agreement,? he said.

In Islamabad, Aziz said even in the case of ?inadvertent violation?, first it had to be investigated and the headquarters of the other air force informed.

The foreign minister said the Indian high commissioner, G. Parthasarathy, was summoned for lodging a ?strong protest?.

The same ritual was acted out in Delhi, where foreign secretary K. Raghunath called Pakistan high commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Kazi.    

New Delhi, Aug. 10 
Contrary to official claims that the last Pakistani intruders have been evicted from Kargil, a clutch of Pakistan army regulars continue to hold two positions in the Mushkoh valley.

But with elections less than a month away, the Vajpayee government is trying hard to conceal this as it does not want to harm its chances of riding the Kargil wave to victory.

Sources in the defence establishment and the security agencies said two groups of Pakistani army personnel, who were part of the units which withdrew from Drass, Batalik and Kaksar, are still in control of Points 5353 and 5060 in Mushkoh.

Around 30 armed Pakistani soldiers are well entrenched on each of the two positions. They are being replenished by brigade camps in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir.

The intruders on Point 5353 have hoisted white flags, claiming it is located inside Pakistan?s side of the Line of Control. But defence sources here pointed out that this position falls within Indian territory and is demarcated on maps signed by senior army officers of the two countries following the Simla Agreement.

The Indian director-general of military operations, Lt Gen. N.C. Vij, is believed to have raised the issue during talks with his Pakistan counterpart, Lt Gen. Tauqir Zia.

But the Pakistanis rebuffed Lt Gen. Vij and told him that the two positions in Mushkoh are located on their side of the LoC. ??It is all happening very close to the LoC. Even after Operation Vijay ended, Pakistani patrol parties have, on several occasions, strayed 100 metres within Indian territory. They were effectively dealt with and some of them were even killed,?? a senior army officer said.

Indian troops are engaged in heavy fighting to recapture Points 5353 and 5060. The army?s field intelligence units have reported that another feature in Batalik, Point 5468, which lies to the northeast of Muntho Dhalo, where the intruders had put up stiff resistance and had defied air strikes for a considerable period, is also under the occupation of Pakistani troops.

Points 5353 and 5060 in Mushkoh are strategically important as they overlook Drass and the Matayen area along the Srinagar-Leh highway.

One reason why the army failed to recapture the two dominating heights in Mushkoh is the hundreds of mines planted by the retreating troops of the Northern Light Infantry around the approaches and ridges.

Besides, defence sources said, several supply routes leading to the two positions are intact. The defence establishment has intelligence reports of streams of mules and porters bringing in military supplies and rations for the intruders. This belies the air force?s claims that the network of supply routes inside Indian territory had been shattered by July 18, the day the unofficial war in Kargil was officially called off.    

Today?s forecast: One or two spells of light rain

Temperature: Maximum 33?C (1?C above normal)
Minimum 27.4?C (1?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 89%
Minimum 67%

Rainfall: Nil

Sunset: 6.10 pm
Sunrise: 5.14 am

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