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June 26, 1999
Lanpher likely to make face-saving proposals for Pakistan
George Iype in New Delhi
Hectic diplomatic efforts to force Pakistan to withdraw its troops and mercenaries from Kargil moved a step further on Saturday as United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gibson Lanpher arrived in Delhi to discuss and de-escalate the crisis.
Officials in the external affairs ministry were tight-lipped about reports that the apex Cabinet Committee on Security had discussed a set of peace proposals from the US to bail Pakistan out of the current conflict.
The crucial part of these proposals is said to be giving safe passage or an exit corridor to the Pakistani intruders to move out of Kargil within a time frame.
Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Defence Minister George Fernandes had expressed their willingness to allow safe passage for the infiltrators if the proposal came from Islamabad.
The external affairs ministry spokesman refused to confirm the reports, saying, "We are unaware of any such proposal."
But he said the government is waiting for Lanpher to brief it on the American initiative in Pakistan.
He said India "appreciates" Lanpher's visit as it reflects the opposition from the international community - particularly the G-8, the European Union and the US - to Pakistan's armed intrusion.
Officials said Lanpher would meet Foreign Secretary K Raghunath and top officials in the defence establishment. He will also call on Prime Minister Vajpayee, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and Brajesh Mishra, principal secretary in the prime minister's office.
New Delhi believes that since the stakes are high for both India and Pakistan, the US is making unprecedented diplomatic efforts to find an early solution to the flare-up.
But so far the American initiative to persuade Pakistan to withdraw its intruders from Indian territory has failed, with the Pakistani Army not accepting the US intervention.
A meeting between US President Bill Clinton and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief is now being planned to persuade Islamabad to get out of Kargil immediately.
Official sources said Lanpher's visit is crucial because the US will hear the Indian point of view before sitting with the Pakistani top brass again to finalise a settlement on the Kargil crisis.
They said Lanpher will put forth a set of proposals that could include safe passage for the Pakistani soldiers and mercenaries and resumption of the bilateral dialogue on Kashmir.
"As Pakistan is completely isolated in the Kargil conflict, it seems Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief has sought US assistance to help him wriggle out of the crisis," the official told rediff.com
Therefore, he said, US diplomacy will now move in the direction of urging India "not to further embarrass Pakistan".
But it is unlikely that India will accept any further dialogue with Pakistan till its troops withdraw from Kargil. Vajpayee himself said today there would be no talks with Islamabad until all the intruders had been forced out.
The sources said the government is unlikely to accept the safe passage proposal even if it is put forward by the US, for two reasons. First, the three service chiefs are stiffly opposing it. Second, as the Opposition has already rapped the government for making the proposal, the government will be unwilling to take such a politically sensitive decision at this juncture.
But for the government, Lanpher's visit is not only an attempt to pave the way for a possible solution to the Kargil conflict, but an event that will take India-US relations to a new high.
The American official's trip follows recent high-level contacts between India and the US, particularly the meeting between Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra and US National Security Adviser Sandy Berger in Geneva two weeks ago.
External affairs ministry officials believe America's open support to India on Kargil and Lanpher's diplomatic mission will concretise the Indo-US relationship for the first time in many years.
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