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May 31, 1999
Vajpayee delinks talks from air-strikes
George Iype in New Delhi
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Monday accepted the offer of an immediate bilateral dialogue with Pakistan, even as he described the situation in Kashmir as "war-like."
After a meeting with External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and Foreign Secretary K Raghunath, Vajpayee consented to a summit of the foreign ministers in New Delhi on the condition that India would not stop the air strikes in the Kargil sector till the infiltrators are completely flushed out.
The MEA agreed to the bilateral dialogue after Indian diplomats succeeded in convincing most world leaders that the latest flare-up in Kashmir was entirely Pakistan's doing, and that the confrontation in Kargil is a bilateral issue between New Delhi and Islamabad.
An MEA spokesperson told Rediff On The NeT that India has accepted Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief's offer to send Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz to New Delhi for continuing the bilateral dialogue.
"But it will not be a dialogue as wanted and stipulated by Pakistan. The ongoing air and military strikes to eliminate the infiltrators from across the Line of Control will continue even if the talks happen any day," he said.
In the wake of the Kargil conflict, Sharief had offered to send Aziz to New Delhi for talks, with a condition that India stops the air strikes against the infiltrators.
While the dates of the foreign ministers' summit are likely to be worked out soon, the rhetoric in the wake of the Kargil conflict continued, with Vajpayee himself warning that Pakistan is trying "to alter the frontier in the Line of Control and grab India's land."
Addressing a group of party workers at his home on Monday morning, the prime minister said "a war-like situation has evolved in Kashmir" all because of Pakistan.
Hitting out at Pakistan for indulging in invasion of Indian territory, Vajpayee said the aggression launched by the Pakistan army is a clear attempt to alter the frontiers.
"India would give a befitting reply if Pakistan did not recall the insurgents from Kashmir," the prime minister stated.
Officials said Vajpayee's rhetoric against Pakistan was meant to give a clear warning to Pakistan that with or without bilateral talks, the situation in Kashmir is a military one and therefore it will be met with only militarily.
"The bilateral talk between the foreign ministers is also to ensure that Pakistan's efforts to internationalise the Kashmir dispute by taking the Kargil crisis to the United Nations is effectively curtailed," a senior official said.
"Any dialogue is also meaningless if both the countries do not accept the status quo in Kashmir," he added.
MEA officials, who are working out the nitty-gritty of the proposed bilateral talks, disclosed that India will soon send an official communication to Pakistan to make it very clear that a dialogue will be meaningful only if the infiltrators are called back.
Officials are not overly optimistic that Pakistan will respond positively to the acceptance of dialogue by India on the condition that the military strikes in Kargil sector have to delinked from the peace talks.
India also wants the proposed bilateral talks to cement the Lahore Declaration, an important clause of which was to stopp cross-border terrorism. "Pakistan has been stepping up cross-border terrorism ever since the declaration was signed in February," the official added.
Officials admit that India's biggest worry now is that while Pakistan is making peace-like noises through the offer of a dialogue, its army is deeply engaged in organising large-scale infiltration of foreign mercenaries across the Line of Control.
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