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August 31, 2000
Army awaits Fernandes' return to refute MP's charges
Josy Joseph in New Delhi
Wary of being drawn into another political muddle, Army chief V P Malik said on Thursday that the Indian Army was ready with an answer to Rajya Sabha member R K Anand's charge that Pakistan was occupying six Indian posts at the Line of Control. Since the issue is in the "political domain" the army needs clearance to go public with the reply, Malik said.
On Wednesday, Anand, who is also an advocate, had claimed that the peaks, strategically close to the line of control, were occupied by the Pakistani army.
"We need political clearance. He is a political leader," Malik said, when asked for his reaction.
"The gentleman is a member of the Rajya Sabha belonging to a particular political party. We are aware of whatever he has said," the army chief said.
Some allegations that Anand has made "are of the past" and the army has "to check the facts". The army headquarters is verifying these facts, he said.
"We are ready with an answer," Malik said refusing to be drawn any further into the controversy kicked off by the Jharkand Mukti Morcha member.
Anand had said that peaks Point 5353 (map reference: 490644), Point Aftab-I (499642), Point Saddle Ridge (525638), Point Bunker Ridge (548639), Shangruti and Dhalunag were occupied by Pakistan. These peaks offer Pakistani forces a commanding view of the Srinagar-Leh highway, the Drass helipad and several other military installations.
"Post 5353 is very, very, very strategic. In 1992-93, the then Corps Commander (of India) had made a makeshift pocket on the point and sent personnel by helicopter, and officers posted there had cut off supply to Pakistani pockets along the line of control for nearly two months," he had said. The capture in 1992-93 was in retaliation for a Pakistani attack on several Indian posts, including the national highway from Srinagar to Leh.
He said Indian troops had tried to capture Point 5353 on May 18, 1999, when operations began in Operation Vijay in Kargil but it failed.
The operation was carried out by soldiers led by Major Navneet Mehta, Anand said.
He had shown reporters a copy of a report prepared by the officer for seniors on the failed operation on Point 5353. In the report, he has explained why an attack on Point 5353 was difficult.
Anand also made available a wireless message of May 19, 1999 that said, "Attack on 5353 called off due to bad weather" and "13 OR (other ranks) injured in Maj Navneet's Pl (platoon) due to difficult trn (terrain)".
The army headquarters is preparing a rebuttal that will be publicised once Union Defence Minister George Fernandes is back from a tour of north-eastern states.
On security challenges being faced by the country, the outgoing army chief said, "Security challenges for the country are increasing." The challenges include low intensity conflicts.
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