India slips on shifting Sir Creek waters
Prisoner gift to Pak on I-Day
Sonia media debut with Bofors gun blazing
Upstaged Advani sings ?peerless PM?
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Aug. 13 
South Block is nervous because the Atlantique aircraft may have been shot down either within Pakistan or on the international border itself.

A quiet study carried out by the Indian military establishment a few months ago shows that Sir Creek in Kutch, where the plane was shot down, has changed course over the past few decades, eroding Indian territory.

According to an international convention drawn up in 1925, when a water body separates two nations, the boundary should pass through its middle. In the case of Sir Creek, India has been trying to avoid admitting that nature?s whims have heavily benefited Pakistan in this case as the boundary has moved several kilometres into India.

Pakistan has been disputing this territory, aware that the land gains which have naturally accrued to it cannot be questioned. India is maintaining a studied silence because it stands to lose if doubts about this part of the Indo-Pak border are raised openly.

South Block is embarrassed because it is now more than apparent that Indian choppers may have flown into Pakistani territory immediately after the incident to salvage parts of the wreckage stealthily and to try to grab media attention by claiming that the debris had fallen in Indian territory.

There is also some introspection going on about whether the two MiG-21s that had scrambled and chased the Atlantique should have been more cautious and restrained, given the nature of the disputed terrain.

There are now growing doubts in South Block that the plane may have been hit when it was either already in or on the verge of crossing into Pakistani territory.

This has led to questions about whether the Naliya air base, from where instruction was issued to the MiG-21s to fire the Matra missiles, was right in giving a shoot-down command on the spur of the moment. The air force has already admitted that ?verbal warnings could not be given to the Pakistanis?. The Indian pilots had only spoken to their superiors at the Naliya base.

India has been aware that it is losing land in this marshy terrain. A survey carried out in 1986 provided alarming details about the shifting course of the water body.

This year, when the Pakistanis were quietly preparing to grab the heights in Kargil, the Indians were carrying out a survey in Sir Creek to find out whether more land had been lost. The survey results were handed over both to South Block mandarins and defence bigwigs.

Another reason for conducting this survey was a watch-cum-communications tower that had come up in this area, suggesting the Pakistanis were bent on pursuing the Sir Creek dispute to its conclusion.

Moreover, soon after the Kargil conflict began, intelligence inputs from the other side suggested that the highly-trained marine commandos of the Special Service Naval Guards (Pakistan Navy) were on the prowl close to the border in Sir Creek and had even occupied fishermen?s huts under their jurisdiction.

After the shoot-down, the commandos have further strengthened their presence and, since the marshy terrain prevents larger vessels from entering the area, have been sending in smaller craft.

The presence of these comman-dos is alarming for India because the unit has been raised specifically for special tasks like mounting attacks on Indian naval establishments in Mumbai, Cochin and Visakhapatnam.

The Atlantique may have had embarked on an espionage mission to provide information for the gradual Pakistani build-up.    

New Delhi, Aug. 13 
In a smart move on the eve of Pakistan?s national day, India today said it would release eight soldiers captured during the Kargil conflict.

The two-pronged move is aimed at arresting international concern over the rising tension in South Asia and establishing the involvement of Pakistani army regulars in the Kargil intrusion.

Pakistan foreign minister Sartaj Aziz described the announcement as a ?positive step??. Reuters quoted him as saying: ?We had also released their pilot...This should be considered a positive step.??

Pakistan high commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Kazi was informed of the decision this afternoon. Islamabad, which insists its army was not involved in the Kargil conflict, is not believed to have made any request for the release.

??It?s a gesture of goodwill on India?s part to release the eight Pakistani soldiers on the eve of its national day,?? foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said.

But he denied the decision was linked with the downing of the Pakistani Atlantique. ??We deal with different situations in different ways,?? Jassal said.

The official pointed out that India was a signatory to the Geneva Convention and the Pakistani prisoners were treated according to it. ??It?s our hope that the gesture will be recognised for what it is,?? Jassal said.

Though South Block has dissociated the decision from the Kutch air clash, the move is likely to establish India as a mature country which is making a sincere effort to de-escalate tension.

Following the shoot-down, it had appeared that India was losing some of the diplomatic points it won during the Kargil flare-up. Though Delhi claimed the intruder plane was given enough warning, major powers led by the US are sceptical of the story.    

New Delhi, Aug. 13 
Congress president Sonia Gandhi today fielded questions at her maiden news conference with an aplomb that surprised even party colleagues.

A picture of confidence, Sonia Gandhi shunned the practice of falling back on advisers and took all questions herself ? from Bofors to the Congress? prime ministerial candidate. She, however, avoided a reply when asked to spell out 10 Janpath?s relationship with controversial Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrochhi.

Mixing aggression with spontaneity, Sonia Gandhi said if her party was voted to power, it would take the Bofors probe to its ?logical and legal conclusion?.

She accused the BJP government of ?purposely? delaying the probe. ?Where are those papers (on the alleged recipients of the bribe)? Why are they not releasing them? Because it suits them to keep them hanging,? she said.

An emotional Sonia Gandhi said her husband Rajiv Gandhi was ?crucified? on Bofors. Asked about her links with Quattrochhi, she said: ?The CBI has found him a suspect but we have never seen papers telling that he has done something that is not correct.?

The Congress chief even lobbed a question at the media. ?Do you have some proof? Bring me the proof. If there is any proof, please bring it so that my husband can be vindicated,? she said.

In a combative mood again when asked how the Congress could align with a ?tainted? Jayalalitha and Laloo Yadav, Sonia Gandhi replied in Hindi: ?Jayalalithaji jab tak BJP ke saath thein, tab tak saaf thein, hai na? Ab hamare saath hain, to bhrasht hain. Ab iska jawab aap dein.?

The Congress chief named the BJP as her ?adversary number one? and lambasted the Vajpayee government?s performance. ?We have seen coalition governments not being able to manage. The caretaker government has been involved in a series of mismanagements .... The last is Kargil.?

She said the Congress candidate for Prime Minister would be chosen by MPs after the elections. She was quick to add that the selection of an individual was not important. ?What is important is the programme and policies of the party,? she said.

On sharing power, she said: ?I have no information the ADMK would like to join the coalition.?

Ridiculing the BJP?s claims on Kargil, she said: ?We believe the victory is that of the armed forces. The victory is not of the government which allowed the enemy to grab our land.?

Sonia Gandhi?s performance pleased the middle and lower rungs of partymen. About 500 leaders had gathered to witness their chief?s first ?live? performance. ?She has guts and leadership qualities,? said an Uttar Pradesh leader.    

New Delhi, Aug. 13 
Home minister L.K. Advani today claimed Atal Behari Vajpayee had proved himself to be a ?Prime Minister without peer? in his 15-month tenure, and that next month?s election was the first in 28 years in which the government was going to the people on a ?pro-incumbent crest?.

Joining the BJP?s chorus in praise of Vajpayee, Advani said if the mood of the electorate in 1998 was ?we have tried all others, now let us give the BJP a chance?, in 1999 it was: ?We have tested the BJP-led government and it has emerged with flying colours.?

Addressing a news conference at the BJP?s central office, Advani, who also heads the party?s election campaign committee, asserted that the BJP and its allies were poised for a ?spectacular victory?. The triumph, he added, would ?be a clear and categorical mandate for a five-year term?.

On the BJP?s problems with the Janata Dal (U)?s induction into the National Democratic Alliance, he said: ?They have been our valued colleagues for 15 or 16 months and I am sure the issue will be sorted out.?

Asked how the government would last its term with a tenuous alliance, Advani replied: ?The last time the BJP and its allies could get just 252. They (Congress) were able to seduce one of our major allies. This time, we and our allies will have a comfortable majority, so the Congress will not be able to destabilise us.?

The home minister, who has been forced to play second fiddle to Vajpayee in the run-up to the polls ? be it campaign management or striking alliances ? said Vajpayee would be the ?focal point of this mood change,? which, he said, was aptly captured by the three T?s: ?Tried, Tested, Trusted.?

?In the 1998 elections and before, if you talked to people, there was a pervasive mood of cynicism and a feeling of hopelessness with the Congress and its leaders, indeed with all political parties, including the BJP. But now the cynicism and hopelessness have given way to hope and optimism. The greatest achievement of the Vajpayee government has been its ability to instil faith and optimism in the political system. Everybody acknowledges that the single biggest motivator for this change has been Atal Behari Vajpayee. I would say he has proved to be a Prime Minister without peer,? Advani said.

The home minister said Kargil was the biggest achievement of the Centre. ?The manner in which the Kargil conflict was handled by the Prime Minister and his colleagues was certainly the crowning achievement of this government. In every village, in every town, the message has filtered that if there is any leader who can lead the country in war and peace, it is Atal Behari Vajpayee alone.?

Through the press meet, Advani was so carried away singing paeans to the Prime Minister that there was no reference to his stint in the home ministry. The choice before voters, he said, was a ?leadership that had been tested and proved itself to be mature, seasoned and suffused with patriotism? or one that was ?alien to the ethos and problems of India? and ?bereft of experience? (an obvious reference to Sonia Gandhi).

Advani announced that Vajpayee would release the NDA?s manifesto on Monday.    

Today?s forecast: A few spells of rain with one or two thundershowers

Temperature: Maximum 30.9?C (1?C below normal)
Minimum 24.6?C (1?C below normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 98%
Minimum 79%

Rainfall: 34.4 mm

Sunset: 6.08 pm
Sunrise: 5.15am

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