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June 23, 1999
Army ready to cross LoC if need be
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
General Ved Prakash Malik, chief of the army staff, today declared that if the Kargil conflict warrants crossing the border into Pakistan, the Indian armed forces will not hesitate to do so.
The statement followed an exhortation by Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani that India must be ready for war.
The four-star general faced a barrage of questions whether the army had sought permission to cross the Line of Control and take the war into Pakistan.
His tactful reply was: "The constraint [in fighting only on the Indian side of the Line of Control] is due to our mandate from the government that the armed forces must not cross the Line of Control."
General Malik, however, added, "If in the supreme national interest it becomes necessary to cross the Line of Control, then the matter will be taken up with the Cabinet."
The army chief then refused to take further questions on the subject, saying he had no further comments to offer.
He said the situation along the LoC is being monitored all the time. "[Not crossing the LoC] is a Cabinet decision which was taken in consultation with the army. We keep reviewing the situation," he said.
The move by the army chief to address the huge media gathering surprised everyone. For the past few weeks, the media has been briefed by mid-ranking officers Colonel Bikram Singh of the army, Group Captain D N Ganesh of the air force, and joint secretary Raminder Singh Jassal of the external affairs ministry.
The army, however, denied any hidden motive in the sudden decision.
General Malik also refused to comment on the statement of his Pakistani counterpart, General Pervez Musharraf, that "hopes of peace were receding" because of the Indian Army's build-up and operations near the LoC. He merely said: "We have a mandate to drive out the intruders and that will be completed."
Regarding the need to patrol the border once the enemy is thrown out, and whether the army can afford another Siachen-like holding operation, the general replied, "We need to look beyond Kargil."
Asked to clarify what he meant and whether he was speaking in terms of military operations or a political resolution, he again refused further comment.
But he said that since it is physically impossible to monitor the entire border all the year round, the need is to install technical devices that can track intrusions and armed build-ups in the region.
The army chief refused to blame intelligence failure for the armed intrusion. "Intelligence is a big word that encompasses many facets," he said. "I would prefer to say that there was a surveillance failure. Yet, at this juncture, it is best not to say anything."
General Malik pointed out that regardless of the semantics, for the soldier fighting the enemy on the ground, it is a war. "The intruders are getting full Pakistani support, including logistical support."
The general refused to fix a time frame for evicting the intruders. He also refused to say whether the army is seeking to drive the enemy out before the onset of winter.
The winter months, which start from September, make the entire region snow-bound and inhospitable. "We are trying to drive them out as soon as possible, but with the intruders still 5 to 6 kilometres deep in some pockets and spread over 110 to 120 kilometres, it is a difficult operation that will take time," he admitted.
Earlier, addressing the media, the general said the Indian armed forces had foiled Pakistan's overall design to sever the road between Zoji La and Leh and trap the Indian defences in the Kargil, Batalik and Turtuk sectors.
He said there is a difference in the infiltration that has taken place across the Line of Control in other parts of Jammu and Kashmir over the last 10 years and the latest instance.
In the earlier scenario, armed militants -- mostly foreigners -- were being sent into India with support from the Pakistani Army in terms of mission, terrain intelligence, logistics, fire cover and communications. This time, however, it is the Pakistani Army itself that has crossed the LoC using the fašade of militants to try and change the delineated alignment of the LoC.
Outside the briefing hall in South Block, where Army Headquarters is located, large, detailed maps were put up, which showed the delineation of the LoC with the signatures and stamps of senior Indian and Pakistani military commanders. According to those maps, the only area in dispute is the region beyond NJ9842 and north along the Soltoro ridgeline (where the Siachen glacier is located).
Also on display were arms and ammunition captured from enemy positions in the Kargil sector.
General Malik said any soldier without a GPS [global positioning system] could make an error of a few hundred metres on the ground, but an error of 8 or 9 kilometres is unimaginable.
He said India had taken note of Pakistani statements that the LoC was only 'delineated' and not 'demarcated' and that the LoC is not clear and unambiguous. He said the contention was mischievous, wrong, dangerous, and unacceptable. If it were true, India and Pakistan should have been in a state of war across the entire 740 kilometres of the LoC, he said.
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