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June 7, 1999
India deliberately delaying talks with Pakistan
George Iype in New Delhi
Even as Operation Vijay to flush the armed Pakistani intruders out from Kargil intensified on the 13th day today, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government's offensive to handle the diplomatic fallout from Kashmir was put into top gear.
Officials said that despite considerable delay, the government would certainly welcome Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz before External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh leaves for an official visit to China on June 14.
External affairs ministry sources pointed out that the government's decision to reject Pakistan's offer to have the foreign ministerial dialogue on June 7 was deliberate and meant to ensure that India is at an advantage when Singh and Aziz sit across the negotiation table.
For, after almost two weeks of relentless air and ground attacks on the intruders in Kargil, the service chiefs have informed the government that Operation Vijay will be successful in a few days. So the government wants to begin the bilateral dialogue only after the forces complete the final assault.
Secondly, external affairs ministry officials preparing for the talks are of the opinion that "the more we delay the dialogue, the better it is for us". "India will benefit and Pakistan will be exposed if the peace initiatives take place after the final assault from the armed forces," an official pointed out.
He said prolonging the crucial foreign ministerial dialogue is a deft strategy deployed by India as it was Pakistan that had announced its desire to hold immediate bilateral talks to defuse the Kargil crisis.
While the external affairs ministry is likely to announce a "convenient" date in a couple of days, diplomats engaged in managing the fresh Kashmir face-off are working overtime to ensure that Pakistan finds itself in a bind on the matter.
As it is, by proposing to solve the near-war situation on the Line of Control through diplomatic channels and then stating that the LoC was never clearly demarcated, Pakistan has indirectly admitted that the infiltration has been its handiwork.
But considering the rude diplomatic shock India gave Pakistan, external affairs ministry officials also suspect that Pakistan may now reject the date offered by India.
Pakistan may also insist that the Singh-Aziz dialogue encompass the Kashmir dispute and not just the conflict in Kargil. But India is certain to reject such a proposal as the Vajpayee government has already made it clear that the Kargil crisis will be the sole agenda of the foreign ministers' meeting.
Meanwhile, as its diplomatic war against Pakistan continues, it is significant that the Vajpayee government is embarking on a major initiative to repair bilateral ties with China.
Relations between the two Asian giants have not been happy ever since Vajpayee took over as prime minister in April 1998. The Pokhran nuclear tests in May and Defence Minister George Fernandes's statement branding China as potentially India's biggest enemy created considerable mistrust between the countries.
Officials said Singh's visit to China at the peak of the crisis in Kargil is seen as a deft move by India to convert 'enemy number one' into a friend.
Ever since the operations in Kargil began, India has been pleased with the favourable international reaction to its stand. While four permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom and France -- have supported the Indian air strikes, China, the fifth, has remained neutral.
Therefore, Singh's visit to Beijing will be an opportunity for India to convince the Chinese that the crisis in Kashmir has been deliberately created by Pakistan and that India is carrying out the military operations within its own territory in self-defence.
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