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May 31, 1999
India refuses to discuss anything but Kargil with Aziz
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz's talks with his Indian interlocutors will be "only in the context of the Kargil crisis", Joint External Affairs Secretary Raminder Singh Jassal said. The dates for Aziz's visit are yet to be decided.
Jassal insisted that the talks would not cover the entire gamut of the Kashmir issue. This represents a major diplomatic victory for India. Pakistan was keen to ensure that the Kargil talks take place in the backdrop of the Kashmir dispute, but India insisted that it would look at Kargil alone.
The external affairs ministry agreed to have the talks only on the condition that it would concern the presence of armed intruders in Kargil, four to five kilometres inside Indian territory across the Line of Control.
"The presence of armed intruders is nothing short of an armed aggression against India and the talks will be on this issue," said Jassal.
Yet, even for Pakistan, India agreeing to the talks represents a victory of sorts. Once the talks begin, the international spotlight will return to Kashmir, something Islamabad wants desperately. There is also the fear that once the talks begin, pressure may be brought to bear upon India to cease the operations till such time as the talks are on.
But the army has categorically declared that regardless of the talks, operations against the armed intruders who are still holding some mountain peaks will continue. "There will be no let-up," said Major General Joginder Jaswant Singh, additional director-general of military operations, army headquarters.
Until the status quo ante is restored along the LoC, the Indian Air Force strikes and army action will continue. "The armed forces are committed to repulse the intruders and nothing will stop us from achieving our goal," he said.
Jassal said Pakistan had placed no riders on the holding of the talks, least of all one seeking cessation of army and air force strikes against the infiltrators.
A key question is who will Aziz, known for his suave ways, represent? What will be his position on the armed intruders, many of whom are reportedly Pushto-speaking men who may be from Pakistan or Afghanistan?
The external affairs ministry has left the question open. "We will extend to him all the due courtesy that a visiting foreign minister deserves," said Jassal. "But the Indian armed forces hold Pakistan solely responsible for the presence of the armed intruders on Indian territory."
He further said, "Since the intrusions have taken place from Pakistan, it is that country which is responsible. Aziz's visit will give us an opportunity to focus on the intrusions, which amounts to an armed aggression against India."
The army claimed to have captured two more peaks that were abandoned by the intruders in the Batalik sector. It also denied reports that the militants had captured certain forward areas across the LoC. "These reports are nothing but a figment of some people's imagination," said Jassal.
The air and military attachés at the Indian embassy in Islamabad have contacted the Pakistani authorities demanding access to captured Flight Lieutenant K Nachiketa. But there are no plans yet to link Aziz's visit to Nachiketa's release.
Meanwhile, the air strikes and army action against the intruders continued today, with casualties being incurred on both sides, though details were awaited.
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