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June 2, 1999
Advani, Jaswant oppose 'safe passage' proposal
George Iype in New Delhi
On the eve of the proposed meeting of the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers to defuse "the warlike situation" on the Line of Control in the Kargil sector, both governments are caught in a logjam.
On the Indian side, the ministries of external affairs and home are said to be opposed to Defence Minister George Fernandes's proposal to provide safe passage to the Pakistani intruders entrenched in the mountains if they agree to withdraw.
Fernandes had said yesterday that the government was considering the option of safe passage for the intruders if they agreed to retreat to the Pakistani side of the Line of Control.
But officials said the defence minister cannot make "such open comments on the diplomatic initiatives" without consulting the Union Cabinet, the external affairs ministry and the Cabinet Committee on Security.
"We are yet to get official confirmation from Pakistan whether the proposal to hold diplomatic dialogue to halt the Kargil crisis is on. But Fernandes's proposal to give safe passage to the militants is fraught with dangers," an official told Rediff On the NeT.
First of all, he said, it is unlikely that Pakistan will accept such a proposal, because the Nawaz Sharief government has been insisting that the terrorists holed up in Kargil are not trained and sent in by them, but are 'Kashmiri freedom fighters' from India.
Secondly, the external affairs ministry believes "the safe passage plan" should not be discussed by the foreign ministers of the two countries as it does not, and will not, solve the Kargil problem.
"It is a momentary solution. And it is sad that the defence minister is seeking short-cuts to resolve a conflict of this proportion," the official added.
He said a cease-fire in Kargil could come about only if Pakistan agreed to restore the status quo ante on the Line of Control.
Sources said both External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani are not in favour of Fernandes's proposal.
Singh has already said that the conflict in Kargil cannot end till Pakistan agrees to restore the status quo ante.
Advani told reporters in Panjim, Goa, today that he has no information on the defence minister's proposal. "I cannot comment on it till I meet Fernandes," he said.
Advani also disagreed with Fernandes's clean chit to the Sharief government and the Inter-Services Intelligence. "The Nawaz Sharief government is responsible for the intrusion in Kargil," the home minister asserted.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will discuss the safe passage plan with the army top brass and the Cabinet before Pakistani Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz flies down for the meeting.
Having announced its desire to hold peace talks to defuse the crisis, external affairs ministry officials said Pakistan finds itself in a bind.
By proposing to end the war-like situation on the LoC through diplomatic channels, Pakistan has indirectly admitted that the infiltration was its handiwork. Therefore, the officials suspect that it might put off the talks with two pre-conditions. One, the dialogue should discuss the Kashmir dispute along the Kargil conflict. Second, India must first stops the air strikes and military attacks in Kargil.
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