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July 26, 1999
ASEAN forum backs Indian stand on Kashmir dispute
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
The sixth ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Singapore has proved to be an unqualified success for India, a senior official in the external affairs ministry said, even as the Indian Army declared that all the Pakistani intruders have been driven out.
If yesterday's meeting between External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and American Secretary of State Madeleine Albright saw Indo-US friendship reach a new high, the stand taken by the ARF today that Kashmir is a bilateral dispute to be resolved bilaterally is another dizzying success.
With this, the ARF, which comprises the Association of South East Asian Nations and its dialogue partners -- India, the United States, China, Japan, and the European Union - has endorsed India's viewpoint on the Lahore process as the road ahead for India-Pakistan ties.
This endorsement came through the statement of the forum chairman, Singapore.
Moreover, the chairman's statement mentioned neither Kargil nor Kashmir.
For New Delhi, this is a clear reaffirmation of its stand that the Kashmir dispute must be resolved bilaterally, the official said. "Clearly, no one else wants to get involved in matters of the subcontinent," he added.
Another positive statement, he said, is the ARF stating its concern about the spread of small arms, which has led to an increase in terrorism.
India has already upped the ante in its relations with Pakistan by insisting that Islamabad stop aiding and abetting cross-border terrorism in Kashmir before any talks take place.
The ARF statement on small arms is seen as a step further in garnering support against Pakistan's assistance to terrorists.
At last year's ARF meeting, the official pointed out, India had stood isolated and damned for carrying out the nuclear tests at Pokhran on May 11 and 13. "Most of the nations that today support us on the Kargil war and also hold the view that Kashmir must be resolved bilaterally were the same countries that had strongly condemned us last year. In that sense, their siding with us is a reflection of our diplomatic success," he added.
The fact that India showed exemplary restraint in the face of stiff provocation has helped assuage the fears of the ASEAN members about a nuclear race between India and Pakistan. It has also enhanced India's stature in ASEAN eyes, the official said.
The European Union too has said India and Pakistan must work together to resolve the Kashmir issue. While welcoming the de-escalation along the Line of Control, the EU has urged India and Pakistan to respect the LoC and to resume dialogue as agreed upon in the Lahore Declaration.
What has pleased the ministry even more is that the ARF statement also supports India's view on the Kosovo crisis and on universal disarmament of all the nuclear powers!
New Delhi sees this not only as a reflection of the strength of India's arguments but also of the growing importance of New Delhi and the role it can play in south-east Asia and the ARF.
Meanwhile, the Indian Army today declared that the last three pockets occupied by Pakistani soldiers in Mushkoh Valley, Drass and Batalik have been cleared.
Lieutenant General N C Vij, director general of military operations, said no Pakistani soldier or intruder is present anywhere on the Indian side of the Line of Control in the Kargil sector.
He said Pakistani and Indian troops are occupying new heights on their respective sides of the LoC, and intense patrolling is continuing. Also, each side is resorting to artillery fire at the other's forward posts.
The DGMO said Pakistan had dispatched two brigades to the forward areas in occupied Kashmir to improve their position. He added that such measures are likely to continue until both sides reach an understanding.
Terming Operation Vijay a great success, Lt Gen Vij said both sides were to withdraw up to 1km from the LoC. But so far, Pakistan has not kept its word.
Vij said the Kargil war had shown that the army could not afford to leave big gaps in the mountains and that there is a need for surveillance and equipment to help detect intrusions from across the LoC.
The general dismissed any suggestion that Pakistan would try and alter the LoC to its advantage once Indian troops had withdrawn to the agreed depth. "There is no chance of any such unilateral alteration. Both the Indian and Pakistani DGMOs have agreed that to instil trust, the troops should withdraw to 1km and it is a normal process that will be achieved," he added.
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