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May 25, 1998


Advani wants troops to strike across LoC to quell proxy war in Kashmir

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George Iype in New Delhi

Home Minister Lal Kishinchand Advani, who has just taken charge of the Jammu and Kashmir cell at the Centre, will launch a policy of "hot pursuit" to quell the proxy war by Pakistan in the state.

Ministry sources said Advani has finalised a two-pronged strategy to keep up the Bharatiya Janata Party's aggressive position on Kashmir, especially in the wake of the Pokhran nuclear tests.

First, the home minister has given his nod to the state government and central security forces to carry out "deep strikes" into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to destroy the training camps for mercenaries and terrorists.

Second, Advani has ordered a review of the living conditions of thousands of security personnel based in the state throughout the year. Sources said the minister wants the daily risk allowances of the army and paramilitary personnel to be enhanced considerably to raise the morale of the security forces engaged in combating Pakistan's proxy war in the valley.

"The BJP has always been very aggressive on Kashmir. The nuclear tests have given the BJP's belligerence a new kind of volatility," comments a senior official at the Jammu and Kashmir cell.

Advani held a meeting with J&K cell officials on Sunday to launch a fresh initiative to prevent Pakistan's hostile interference in the valley.

According to home ministry records, the situation in the Kashmir valley has improved considerably. While militancy and incidents of terror have declined from 1993 onwards, the ministry says Pakistan-trained militants have now focused their attention on the Jammu region these last few years.

The BJP leadership believes that Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Jammu, especially against Kashmiri Pandits in the region, is aimed at provoking a communal backlash.

Sources said the BJP's decision to take a tough stand on Kashmir began after 26 Hindus were massacred in Udhampur last month.

"It has now culminated in the nuclear tests. The Vajpayee government cannot claim that the nuclear tests and its belligerent stand on Kashmir are not related," a home ministry official told Rediff On The NeT.

While the BJP insists that the nuclear tests have nothing to do with its aggressive stand on Kashmir, diplomatic experts predict that "the Vajpayee doctrine on Kashmir" will push India's foreign policy towards Pakistan in adventurist directions.

After weeks of sabre rattling over nuclear weapons and missiles, they say it will be difficult for India and Pakistan to commence the fourth round of foreign secretary-level talks soon.

An external affairs ministry official said in normal circumstances, the talks between Indian Foreign Secretary K Raghunanth and his Pakistan counterpart Shamshad Ahmed would have been held in August.

The two diplomats would have reviewed the progress of the proposed inter-country groups on Kashmir, the Siachen conflict, trade, delineation of the maritime boundary in the Kutch area, confidence-building measures and more people-to-people contact.

"Now top on the agenda for the secretary-level talks will be the nuclear weapons race," the MEA official commented.

India and Pakistan resumed foreign secretary-level talks in March 1997 after a break of more than three years. The then foreign secretary Salman Haider and Shamshad Ahmed identified eight "outstanding issues of concern to both sides."

The eight issues were peace and security, Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen, the Wullar barrage project, the Tulbul navigation project, Sir Creek, terrorism and drug trafficking, economic and commercial co-operation and promotion of friendly exchanges in various fields.

Then prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharief discussed ways and means to resolve the Kashmir dispute in New York last September.

A month later, the momentum of the peace talks ended abruptly after Islamabad insisted that India agree to set up a joint working group to examine the Kashmir issue. India turned down the demand. The issue could not be resolved, and not much progress could be made on Indo-Pak talks as a general election was called in India.

Now that the Vajpayee government has reshaped India's nuclear and security policies, now that a hardliner like Advani has taken over as the man in charge of Jammu and Kashmir, few expect any immediate dialogue between the South Asian rivals.

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