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June 1, 1999


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Defence, foreign ministries furious with PMO over Aziz's visit

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Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi

The clearance of the visit of Pakistan Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz has caused a deep rift between the prime minister's office on the one hand and the ministries of defence and external affairs on the other.

According to sources, both the ministries which are located in South Block, were against any visit by the Pakistani foreign minister as long as the operations continued.

A visit at such a juncture, they felt, would send out wrong signals to the armed forces and the world at large about India's willingness to fight the intruders.

However, the Prime Minister's Office insisted that holding talks while military engagements continued were in no way contradictory and would enhance India's image as always being ready for talks.

Moreover, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was keen to salvage whatever was possible from the tatters of the Lahore Declaration.

The sources added that the ministries of defence and external affairs finally relented on the explicit condition that regardless of the outcome of the talks, military action would continue till all the intruders vacate the land held by them in the Drass-Kargil-Batalik sector.

The fear of the ministries is well founded. For the history of Indo-Pak talks is against diplomatic efforts. Military victories -- won by blood, sweat, and tears -- have been lost on the negotiating table by the politicians and diplomats.

Sample the following:

*Circa 1947-48: India was on the verge of clearing Jammu and Kashmir but was ordered to stop by the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, thus missing what is still considered the best chance to have regained the entire state.

*Circa 1965-66: Indian troops had won the Haji Pir pass, only to see this very important tactical post handed back to Pakistan following the Tashkent Agreement.

*Circa 1971-72: Despite the overwhelming victory of Indian troops over Pakistan and having taken some 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war and holding many square kilometres of Pakistani territory, the Simla Agreement failed to reach an agreement on Kashmir to resolve the issue.

There is apprehension that political talks may undo the gains of the security forces. Said a young air force officer, "We are really worried that Indian leaders will come under international pressure and agree to some other method, which would only mean that we have lost our men in vain. There should be no compromise on all the intruders going back and both sides respecting the Line of Control. I just hope we are not told to stop now."

The positive aspect is that, so far, the government has stood firm. It has insisted that the only agenda in Sartaj Aziz's talks with India should be the conflict in Kargil and Kargil alone, rather than a general negotiation on Kashmir as sought by Islamabad.

Second, India has also refused to allow any international mediation, including that of the United Nations. Even the United States, usually pro-Pakistan, has not supported Islamabad this time.

Yet, once talks begin, they acquire a momentum of their own. And the worry is that during the talks, India may agree to stopping the military operations.

However, former Rear Admiral K R Menon, now a strategic security analyst, opined that "this time around, I don't think we need to worry too much."

Reason: "With elections just a few months away, there is no way that this government will agree to settle for anything less than a complete pullout by the militants. There is no way that the Bharatiya Janata Party will allow the talks to interfere with army operations. It would be political disaster to do so at this stage," he said.

Former foreign secretary Maharaj Kumar Rasgotra dismissed suggestions of Indian diplomacy failing to hold its ground. "Even when a war is on talks must continue and I see no risk of the negotiations hurting our gains in the Kargil mountains," he said.

He added that there was no fear of international pressure being brought to bear upon India. "We can easily withstand any foreign pressure and there is nothing to worry about. There is no doubt that even as talks continue, we must continue with the armed forces operations to evict the intruders," he stated.

A defence analyst said that holding talks concurrent with the military operations was not wrong per se. "I don't think that the political, diplomatic and defence establishment will let the talks affect the operations in Kargil at any cost, not until the eviction is complete. And certainly major initiatives will be taken only after the intruders are pushed back," he said.

There is also the added factor that the BJP has the self-image of a nationalist party, committed to a hardline stand against Pakistan. And save for 1947, where military operations were stopped, in 1965 and 1971, the diplomatic option occurred after the war had stopped, not during the war.

"With both the defence forces and diplomats hell bent on taking a hardline against the Pakistanis, this is perhaps the best chance for hard and tough negotiations to occur," added the source.

Menon pointed out that India had one advantage that it must capitalise on. "What," he asked, "is the locus standi of these intruders? They are not soldiers in uniform like our men battling it out on the mountains.

In fact, as per the Geneva Convention, these men can simply be shot dead. We don't have to treat them as prisoners of war. And we should not just push them back but capture them alive. Let us then see Pakistan squirm while trying to save them."

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