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July 23, 1999
Army gears up for winter threats: Fernandes
Mohan Pisharoty in Mughalpura (Drass sector)
With the conflict in the Kargil sector practically over, Defence Minister George Fernandes has announced that the Indian Army had started full preparations for keeping the key positions in the area secure during the winter months.
The defence minister, who made his first visit to the area after the Pakistan army announced its withdrawal, said it was time for India to take a firm decision and put a permanent end to Islamabad's proxy war along the Line of Control and not just in the Kargil sector.
Speaking to troops at the Avantipur air base, Kargil, Gunasok, Tololing, Point 4875 and Mughalpura, he said Pakistan could no longer be taken at its word and this post-Kargil phase was the best time for India to resolve the issue once and for all.
He said he was happy to note that the army had already initiated, and was moving very fast, with plans to keep the areas of intrusion in the Kargil sector free from any invasion even during the winter months.
He said air and electronic surveillance would be required in the long run, but the immediate task was to equip the large number of men with winter clothing, arms and ammunition and better communication facilities. Funds, he said, would have to be made available for all this.
Since there was only two months for the winter to set in the area, things would have to move fast and modalities were being worked out for that, he said.
Ruling out the conversion of the LoC into an international border as it was not feasible for either country, Fernandes said, ''Since the world now recognised that Pakistan had violated the LoC, India should take immediate steps to see that Islamabad did not resort to such misadventures at any place on the 720-kilometre Line of Control.
''They are now talking about the Lahore (Declaration), Simla (Agreement). But anything can be done only if they observe the sanctity of the LoC,'' he said.
Asked if India could take an aggressive posture like Pakistan had done by infiltrating people and making intrusions across the LoC, he said these were not issues that could be discussed now. ''We will have to take a decision when the time comes.''
He said not only in the Kargil sector, but right from Gurez to Akhnoor the Pakistan army had been resorting to artillery fire so that militants could slip in. Indian jawans were killed and civilians deeply affected. This would have to stop, he said.
He said any trust that one had with Pakistan was over with Kargil. It was for them to start confidence-building measures like stopping shelling along the LoC, not indulging in cross-border terrorism and then sitting down for talks.
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