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COVER STORY

18-06-1999

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Briefing

In the line of fire

PRAVEEN SWAMI cover-story

An exclusive account from the combat zone, where India's grim war to regain the heights occupied by Pakistani irregulars and troops seems certain to continue for a long time.

PLUMES of smoke marked the spots where Indian artillery shells were exploding on the snow-capped summit of Tololing, the spectacular 5,140-metre mountain that dominates the Drass skyline. The artillery fire had turned the snow to a scarred dull grey colo ur. Just beyond the ridge-line were improvised bunkers built by some 70 Pakistani irregulars and troops. From their commanding heights, the group had succeeded in pinning down Indian soldiers who were lower down the face of the mountain. Dozens of artill ery shells, designed to devastate the bunkers and shower shrapnel from the air, went off all afternoon, as soldiers waited to launch their final assault.

India's grim war to regain the heights occupied by Pakistani irregulars and troops is being waged along some 200 km of the Srinagar-Leh National Highway from the Mushkoh Valley west of Kargil to Chorbat La and Turtok to its east. Several thousand village rs living in areas around Kargil and Drass have fled to safer areas and continue to face immense hardships.

In Drass, buildings that were destroyed in Pakistani artillery fire.

Notwithstanding the air strikes on the positions occupied by the Pakistani irregulars and troops, which began on May 26, the battle seems certain to continue for several weeks, if not months. This Frontline correspondent, the first representative of a media organisation to reach the combat zone, spent four days travelling through the area before other journalists were allowed in by the Indian Army.

DRASS itself resembled nothing so much as a Hollywood war-movie set. When Indian artillery positions opened fire on the positions held by Pakistani irregulars in Tololing and its surrounding ranges, Pakistani guns sought to silence them. They, however, f ailed, mostly hitting the largely Sunni Muslim town. The town's shops and post office were destroyed in the first phase of shelling that began on May 14. Drass' hospital received a direct hit that blew apart its maternity ward, medical stock room and adm inistrative offices. A newly erected mortuary too was hit. Ironically, there were no casualties since the patients had fled to the hills when the first shells began landing.

Nearby villages were also badly damaged. Three houses in Bayras village were completely destroyed, prompting all the 100 families of the village to move away. In Ranbirpora, at least seven homes received direct hits.

This is the beginning of the short summer season in Drass, the second coldest place in the world, where winter temperatures can drop to as low as 60C below zero. "If we don't water our fields now," said schoolteacher Nisar Ahmad, "there will be no food to last us through the winter. Then we will die anyway." Others returned to collect what remained of their possessions or to tend to their cattle. A local shopkeeper, Mohammad Yusuf, opened his shop for a few hours to gather what custom he could from th is thin trickle of visitors.

Some stayed on stoically, having decided to brave the artillery duels. Ghulam Nabi, who fought in the 1971 war, said: "This is the worst shelling I have ever seen, but I have nowhere to run. This is my home." Others too were standing by their posts. Hosp ital worker Mohammad Yusuf was using the local ambulance to drive Drass residents who came in during the day back to their homes. "I am a government servant," he said, "and this is my job." The shelling brought out a bizarre nostalgia in some people. "Th e last time Drass saw a war," recalled 70-year-old Abdul Ghafoor, "was in 1947. There was no shelling then. We saw aeroplanes bombing the heights, but they never came near the town, which was then just a village. I remember it well, for it was the first time I saw an aeroplane."

UNLIKE Drass, Kargil town has suffered little physical damage. In 1998, Pakistani shelling destroyed several buildings and claimed 17 lives. Village homes in Baru and above Kargil have been hit, but casualties have been minimal. Liaqat Ali, 24, was kille d when a Pakistani shell burst above the field he was working in. There are, however, other less dramatic problems. Food supplies, exhausted through the winter, are running low. Little other than rice and watery dal is available, and even the black marke t for vegetables offers little other than beetroot leaves. The Army has sought to keep the road from Srinagar exclusively for military use, and only 10 truckloads of food supplies for civilians have been despatched since the fighting broke out.

There is some semblance of normalcy in Kargil during the day. Some shops remain open, selling cigarettes, tea and instant noodles to the small number of people stuck in the town. At the Saichen Hotel, which is home for the night to travellers on the Leh- Srinagar highway, Lala Ram Chand, a cloth trader from Amritsar, was waiting patiently for the road to open. Improbably, an ice-cream factory is up and running, churning out kilos of luridly coloured bars. Most families have, however, left for the relativ e safety of nearby villages, taking their belongings with them. Some labourers have found work hauling supplies up the mountains for the Army, a task for which they charge twice the normal daily wage.

THE soldiers, however, get paid nothing for war, and many of them appear to be bitter about the failure of Indians elsewhere to acknowledge the sacrifices they are making. "I know no one invited me to wear this uniform," one young officer said, "but it i s strange going back home to people who have no idea of what is going on here." At least 34 soldiers have died so far in the fighting, and 14 are missing. All but five of the 14 are presumed dead, perhaps shot on their way up the formidable Kargil mounta ins in near-impossible missions to storm Pakistan-occupied positions. Well over 100 soldiers have been injured, a quarter of them seriously. These casualty figures are the highest since the Indian Army's ill-fated intervention in Sri Lanka.

Indian troops in the Kargil sector.

13,620 is a place without a name, known only by the altitude (in feet) of the mountain on which it is perched. It dominates Kargil town and is the key to its safety from Pakistani guns. Artillery observers can, from their picket on 13,620, watch deep int o Pakistan, helping their distant detachments zero in on targets, including Pakistan's forward headquarters at Olthangthing. Indian troops captured 13,620 in the 1965 war, but it was returned to Pakistan after the Tashkent Accord. In 1971, Indian troops recaptured 13,620 after two MiG-21 jets bombed Pakistani troops on the mountain.

Soldiers posted on 13,620 have a dangerous job. Since the time the fighting broke out around Kargil, they have been under almost continuous fire from artillery and small arms. On one occasion, rockets landed just a few metres away from the earth bunkers that make up the post. Much of the troops' time is spent huddled inside the earth bunkers in freezing cold, venturing out in turns to keep watch on Pakistani pickets lower down the ridge. There is always the threat that a Pakistani artillery shell will b urst above the post. Such a hit would kill or maim the soldiers there. Moving supplies up the mountain face to 13,620 is particularly dangerous since parts of the steep climb are clearly visible to Pakistani soldiers.

Down the mountain face from 13,620 lie several Indian artillery positions hidden behind ridge-lines to protect them from enemy fire. Positions such as these appear every few kilometres from Gumri to Batalik, letting loose thunderclaps through the valleys with metronome regularity. At one position, 105-millimetre Indian field guns were going off without a break, firing up to 50 rounds in a row until their barrels turned red hot and had to be left to cool. Their targets were Pakistani guns around Olthangt hing that were firing to suppress Indian guns aimed at the positions occupied by Pakistani irregulars and troops. Artillery warfare in the Himalayas is a strange business. High-altitude winds, poor visibility and constantly changing atmospheric condition s reduce accuracy to a third of what it would be on the plains. Volumes make up for lack of precision.

Life in the bunkers.

MANY of the soldiers at Kargil have been on the front lines since 1997, since when the town has been under almost uninterrupted shelling. "I missed my own wedding three times," says artillery officer Captain Ranjit Singh. "I am still amazed that my wife didn't call the whole thing off." Soldiers at Ranjit Singh's artillery post spend much of their time huddled in dingy bunkers, living off the minimum rations that make their way up a brutal dirt track to reach their post. They, like the soldiers fighting on the mountainsides, have no chance to bathe for weeks on end. The soldiers cannot see where their shells land, but can hear Pakistani shells screaming overhead and slamming into the Kargil valley below.

Kargil has seen its ammunition dump and fuel depot reduced to rubble in this summer's exchanges. The dump was hit early in the firing, sending both the town and the 121 Brigade's headquarters scurrying into bunkers for days as shells whizzed around. Posi tions around the airstrip that is under construction and the television station have been under particularly heavy fire. Superintendent of Police Deepak Kumar's home, and that of his neighbour, the District Collector, too were shelled. On May 23, an Army vehicle repair workshop received a direct hit which set it ablaze. This shelling claimed no casualties. Six soldiers were injured a day earlier, two of them maimed for life, when a shell landed just 200 metres from where the Frontline team was.

Indian Army positions in Drass, by contrast, suffered relatively little damage. The 56 Brigade Headquarters, erected after the unit was pushed in from the Kashmir Valley to cope with the crisis, was under constant bombardment. On the night of May 23, the Brigade Headquarters' mess and an improvised temple were burned down. The ruins were still smouldering on the morning of May 24 when Frontline photographed them. There were no casualties since troops and strategic operations centres were ensconce d in bunkers some distance away. "This is what a war is all about," said Commanding Officer Amar Aul. "Perhaps the only consolation is that we know we are giving considerably better than we are getting."

In Kargil town, shops have remained closed since the shelling began.

That, however, is not enough for many junior officers. "I lost four boys on a mountain in Batalik," said one young major. "Their bodies are still on the snow. Every time we try to get them down, the Pakistanis start firing from their bunkers up the mount ains." Several officers whom Frontline spoke to bitterly described the frustrations of fighting a war where the enemy may not be attacked. "It is one thing to die in a real war," one captain said. "But this is not a real war. Pakistan has invaded us, but we cannot retaliate in the same way. Our men are being slaughtered to get back what is ours in the first place. I can't stop thinking that perhaps we will have to do this again next year, and the next."

Colonel Ajit Nair, 121 Brigade Deputy Commander perhaps understands the sentiment. In the autumn of 1988, he was posted in the same brigade as a junior officer. Kargil was then a coveted posting, free from the simmering tensions of the Kashmir Valley and shielded from the bloodbath on the Siachen Glacier. On August 22 that year, Ajit Nair led a patrol to remove mines from the makeshift road to Daru Lang, one of the last Indian positions won in 1971 on the Line of Control. Once they reached the Daru Lang heights on September 8, they found a Pakistani picket there. Attempts to conduct a dialogue broke down when the Pakistani soldiers opened fire with small arms a week later. Ajit Nair's party withdrew and called for support.

With brief pauses akin to advertisement breaks during a cricket match, the war on Kargil's heights has continued ever since. This summer, it has finally reached a climax that India can no longer afford to ignore.

Pakistan's strategy

Pakistan's move in Kargil is part of a calculated design to revive the flagging militancy in Kashmir and place the dispute squarely in the focus of the international community.

THE peace process has been shattered and the "spirit" of Lahore has vanished. Barely three months after the euphoric "bus diplomacy" between India and Pakistan, infiltrators from Pakistan into India have triggered the worst crisis between the two countri es since the 1971 war.

Pakistan's Army and intelligence agencies, aware that the militancy in Kashmir was flagging, have raised the stakes by sending in hundreds of armed and trained intruders across the Line of Control (LoC) in the Kargil and Drass sectors. The infiltrators are backed to the hilt by the Nawaz Sharif Government. The air strikes by India appear to be a belated attempt to dislodge the militants from the strategic heights they have occupied.

The first signs of trouble came soon after the Lahore summit meeting between Sharif and Atal Behari Vajpayee. The appointment of Javed Nasir, a former chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), as the head of a Pakistani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committe e, and Sharif's action in granting an audience to Ganga Singh Dhillon, a symbol of the discredited Khalistan movement, were pointers that trust between the two countries remained at a premium.

One can say without fear of contradiction that the Pakistani exercise across the LoC had been planned for months. The experience of Afghanistan and Pakistan's role there will be instructive for those who are keen to know what is happening in Kargil. The Pakistani "role" in Afghanistan was known for long - the Taliban received moral and material support from Pakistan. Likewise, a large number of the "jehadi groups" that operate in Jammu and Kashmir have their bases and training camps in Pakistan-Occup ied Kashmir or in Afghanistan. Groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen have a substantial base among fundamentalist organisations in Pakistan. The former draws recruits from the Markaz dawa wal Irshad and the latter from the Jamaat- e-Islami.

These groups have offices in Muzaffarabad, and even in Islamabad. They were angered by the show of neighbourhood diplomacy in Lahore in February, and the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen even threatened Nawaz Sharif with dire consequences. Evidently, since then much h as happened that has served to appease these outfits.

Strictly speaking, the Government of Pakistan does not need to send in any of its regular troops across the LoC. The madrasas in Pakistan, many of which are backed by militant outfits, churn out enough recruits for the Kashmir "jehad". Along with religio us instruction, many madrasas, in collaboration with the militant groups, offer military training. The Pakistani intelligence oversees the entire process and backs the groups that toe its line and further its interests. The recruits, unlike in the initia l years of militancy in Kashmir, are Pakistanis, Afghans and "jehadis" from many other countries, who believe that their religion calls upon them to fight the "Hindu oppressor" in Kashmir. In the light of the Afghanistan experience, it can be assumed t hat Pakistan has sent in mercenaries whose link with its intelligence establishment cannot be easily traced.

The Pakistan Government is aware that the militancy in Kashmir does not draw as much support as it did in the early 1990s. It may be better organised and may produce better results, but it is not popular. The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), w hich began the militancy in the late 1980s, has no role to play today. Its founder, the Rawalpindi-based Amanullah Khan, lives under virtual house arrest, his movements under constant watch by the Pakistani intelligence. The reason for this is that Amanu llah Khan remains committed to the cause of "Kashmiri" independence, not to the "right of self-determination" as mentioned in the United Nations resolutions relating to the Kashmir dispute, which give Kashmiris the only option of joining Pakistan.

Any Kashmiri leader who has demonstrated independence of mind has been discarded by the Pakistan Government. Only those who are servile, who unquestioningly toe the line laid down by the ISI, are favoured with funds, arms, communications equipment and m ilitary training.

Pakistan has come to realise that it has to do something "different" to keep the pot boiling in Kashmir. And what better way than to send in well trained mercenaries to take over strategic heights in the Kargil and Drass sectors, which overlook the Kargi l-Leh road, so vital for India's communication links.

Pakistan had earlier alleged that India launched an attack in the Shyok sector on May 6. (New Delhi denied the charge.). The Nation reported (on May 7) that a "large number of Indian intruders" were killed and injured. On May 15, The Nation reported that Pakistan had "captured" five strategic posts in the Kargil sector. The newspaper reported on May 18 that Pakistan continued to occupy the 20 posts it had "wrested" from the Indian Army. No immediate denial of this came from the official mo uthpiece of the Pakistan Army, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Directorate. Several days later, the ISPR stated that the Pakistan Army had not captured any Indian posts.

The Kargil operation was meticulously planned. The despatch of heavily armed militants to Kargil was intended to raise the stakes on the LoC and also to secure a response from India. The "hotting up" of the situation along the LoC, Pakistan believes, wil l help focus international attention on Kashmir, which has become a "nuclear flashpoint" since May 1998.

The attempt, clearly, was to secure the involvement of the international community in Kashmir. A Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman said on May 26 that the U.N. Secretary-General should send a special envoy to the region and the U.N. Military Observer Gro up in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) should be reinforced and activated. "Kashmir is a nuclear flashpoint," he stated.

Significantly, the spokesman stated that the air attacks by Indian aircraft were conducted on the Indian side of the LoC, but that some "bombs" had fallen on the Pakistan side. The import of the statement was to become clear the next day. On May 27, Majo r-General Anis Bajwa, Vice-Chief of the General Staff of the Pakistan Army, claimed - contrary to the previous day's remarks by the Foreign Office spokesman - that Indian aircraft had rocketed and strafed Pakistani positions in the Indus sub-sector on Ma y 26 and flown back. He further claimed that when the Indian aircraft came again on May 27 to the same area, they were shot down.

Gen. Bajwa said that Flight Lieutenant Nachiketa (No. 1135, 9 Squadron, Srinagar) piloting a MiG-27 was in Pakistani custody while Squadron Leader (Ajay) Ahuja was "unfortunately killed". Ahuja's body was handed over to the Indian side on May 28, and the Indian Army stated that the body bore bullet wounds. The reports also suggest that Ahuja had ejected safely and had used his parachute. Foreign journalists, who were taken by Pakistani authorities to see both the crashed aircraft, saw Ahuja's personal effects, including his personal weapon, which had his name engraved on it.

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On May 28, Brigadier Rashid Qureshi stated that an Indian helicopter was brought down by "Indian fire" during air strikes on the positions held by mercenary militants. Soon after, the United Jehadi Council claimed responsibility for the downing of the MI -17 helicopter. "The downing of the Indian helicopter gunship is the result of the collective operation of all the Mujahideen in the Council," said Syed Salahuddin, Council "chief" and supreme commander of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. The Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (formerly the Harkat-ul-Ansar) and the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen are the main groups in this Pakistan-backed Council.

Initially, the Tehrik-e-Jihad, a similar front, had stated that its armed mercenaries had taken position on the heights in the Kargil and Drass sectors. Soon, the other major militant outfits announced that they were sending "reinforcements" to the area. Clearly, all the pro-Pakistan militant outfits, which receive their sustenance from Pakistan, are operating in the Kargil and Drass sectors.

However, the Pakistani strategy has not succeeded in getting the international community to put pressure on India. The West has limited itself to counselling both India and Pakistan to exercise restraint. Of late, relations between the United States and Pakistan seem to have become strained.

Addressing a public meeting in Karachi on May 28, Yaum-i-Takbeer ('The Great Day') - the first anniversary of the Chagai nuclear tests - Prime Minister Sharif stated that he had spoken on the telephone to his Indian counterpart. The Information Minister stated on May 29 that Sharif was merely returning Vajpayee's call of May 24.

State-run television reported that Sharif had offered to send Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz to Delhi for talks and that he had said that issues between India and Pakistan could be resolved across the table, not by sending in aircraft.

The Sharif Government has made it clear that the objective of the Aziz visit was not merely to defuse the tension but to find a permanent solution to the Kashmir issue. That, in itself, is a giveaway. The dialogue process between India and Pakistan is on ; it is Pakistan which has chosen not to respond to India's offer to hold Foreign Secretary-level talks, which cover the all-important issues of peace and security and Kashmir.

Why did Pakistan shy away from Foreign Secretary-level talks? Why is Pakistan now willing to send its Foreign Minister for talks? Given the fact that Pakistan does not recognise the mercenary Mujahideen as anything but a "Kashmiri" force, what is there t o talk about? Will Aziz agree that the Mujahideen who are operating from camps in POK should withdraw to their earlier locations? That seems a highly unlikely proposition.

The Pakistani move in Kargil is part of a cold, calculated strategy. Apart from flogging the militancy in Kashmir, the attempt is to put Kashmir on the front-burner. Since February 1997, Pakistani spokesmen have tom-tommed their success in making the Kas hmir issue visible internationally and in placing it on the top of the agenda for the dialogue with India.

There are no divisions in the Pakistani establishment. The Army is under the control of Nawaz Sharif and it is he who calls the shots in Pakistan. The ISI continues its operations against India and in Kashmir; there is no contradiction here. Civilian Min isters and Army officials continue to echo each other in their daily diatribes against India. When it comes to taking an anti-India stand, the Pakistani establishment is solid as a rock. Kargil reflects that reality.

The hawks in India have clearly been taken for a ride by the hawks in Pakistan. When Vajpayee arrived at Wagah on that clear afternoon of February 20, Sharif offered him "half a hug", nothing more. That is the ground reality of India-Pakistan relations. Nothing, apart from the atmospherics, had changed since February.

In the 10 years of Kashmiri militancy, Pakistan had never tried such an adventure. A self-proclaimed nationalist government was in power in New Delhi when the infiltration took place. Kargil demands a re-examination of the Indian approach towards Pakista n. Lack of coherence must yield ground to a cogent policy.

A turning point in Kashmir

V.R. RAGHAVAN cover-story

The Kargil conflict has long-term security implications for India and Pakistan.

IN the Lahore Declaration signed in February 1999 by the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, one of the paragraphs in the preamble reads, "the nuclear dimension of the security environment of the two countries adds to their responsibility for avoidanc e of conflict between the two countries..." It goes on to emphasise that "an environment of peace and security is in the supreme national interest of both sides." The Memorandum of Understanding signed at the time went a long way in identifying specific measures that India and Pakistan would take to implement the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) that already exist and even review them for improvement.

Within three months of the Lahore high point, relations between the two countries have reached a nadir. Kargil, a small district headquarter town situated between the remote Zanskar and the Ladakh ranges, has become the cause celebre in the tragic and avoidable crashing down of hopes generated at Lahore.

During my years in the Kargil area, I was once asked to inaugurate a local festival. A favourite sport of the Kargilis is archery. The young and old were enthusiastically engaged in shooting at small wooden pegs stuck on mounds of earth a long distance a way. A venerable elder asked the D.C. sahib sitting next to me to shoot a few arrows at the targets. The gentle bespoke bureaucrat went up to the mike and announced in inimitable Urdu, "I do not shoot. In Kargil we often get shot at and that is enough fo r me." That remark was received with great applause and appreciation for the understanding he showed of the situation in Kargil. It has remained a perennial target for the Pakistan Army to practise its gunnery. In an indescribably beautiful area of orcha rds, green meadows and water mills, there are villages which have to be vacated year after year when the Pakistani guns rain down death.

The Pakistani military's obsession with Kargil is a favourite subject of speculation over fragrant tea in the town and somewhat stronger beverages in Army messes. Since 1947, the Indian Army has fought some of its toughest combat actions in this area. A few months after Independence, Pakistani troops and irregulars entered Kargil and branched out south to the Zoji-La Pass and east to Leh. They were stopped at the pass by some very brave fighters and prevented from entering into the Srinagar bowl. As for Leh, skirmishes took place within an hour's drive from it. It required the vision of Gen. K.S. Thimayya to plan the recapture of Kargil. He worked a column of troops into Leh through what is today Himachal Pradesh. This march over high passes and diffic ult mountains took months. Thimayya simultaneously put into effect a master stroke by getting an airstrip ready at Leh and forcing the unprecedented entry of tanks on the Zoji-La. In modern Indian military history, the link-up at Kargil by the two column s from Leh and Zoji-La is a memorable event. It needed one year to complete as the troops had to wait out the winter of 1947.

Kargil's relief was short-lived. While the Pakistanis were pushed out of the town, they held the heights overlooking it. From 1948 to 1965 the Kargilis lived under the direct sight of Pakistanis, who rained artillery fire without any pretext every other day. During winter Kargil and Leh are cut off by snow from the rest of the country. They need to be stocked up for winter since the road remains snow-bound for seven months. Unlike Leh and Srinagar, Kargil did not have an air link. The small air strip at Kargil was in view of the Pakistani posts on the hills. Aircraft would land there by running the gauntlet of fire. The Pakistani artillery fire made the road that brought supplies to Kargil and Leh unusable for long periods.

In 1965, on the night the war started, Indian infantry charged up to clear the Pakistanis from the hilltops around Kargil. One of the battalion commanders was advised to wait for a day for preparations to be made for the attack. He attacked the same nigh t saying, "I do not want to gain time and lose the blood of my men." These gains, made with a loss of lives, were undone when, as part of the Tashkent Accord, the captured hills were returned to Pakistan - with disastrous results for the people of Kargil .

In 1971, the hills were recaptured and the Pakistanis were pushed back farther than in 1965. Notwithstanding this, there are some stretches of the Srinagar-Leh road that are still visible to Pakistani posts from a considerable distance. These posts attem pt to fire at the road, but with little effect.

During the period of Pakistan-inspired militancy in the Valley, Kargil has remained adamantly uncooperative with the militant outfits. The people of Kargil have not sided with militancy. They have showed no interest in Pakistan's designs on Kashmir. Karg il is also an overwhelmingly Shia Muslim area. Other than isolated instances of aberrations, Kargil has not supported the militants and their activities. Pakistan's attempts to push in infiltrators through this sector have always failed with heavy losses in men and equipment to them. As a consequence and perhaps because of its unwillingness to support militancy, Pakistan has intensified its attacks on Kargil town and the villages around it in the last few years, with considerable damage to property and life in the area.

Since the Pakistani military cannot reach Kargil by ground, it has attempted since 1971 and particularly in the last few years to do so with its guns. It has targeted the homes, cattle and fields of the Kargilis. When that did not work and its other aven ues of entry into the Valley were effectively curtailed, it has now attempted a new method. In the process, it has raised the threshold of its military involvement in Kashmir to new and dangerous levels. The intrusion in May 1999 in the Kargil sector, wi th militants armed to hitherto unattainable levels, portrays an altogether different approach. This time the intention is apparently to take and hold territory in Jammu and Kashmir and invite an Indian response. The selection of the area, the timing of t he intrusion, the extent of area taken and the preparedness of the intruding groups are unique. They are also indicative of the planning, preparation and combat support made available to the intruders. These are not irregulars of the kind so far seen in the Valley. The Indian suspicion that they are Pakistani military personnel with an irregular patina is therefore not misplaced.

THE choice of the Kargil sector for the major intrusion requires some explaining. This is the only sector on the Line of Control (LoC) where Pakistani posts have an advantage of higher positions. Elsewhere on the LoC, they are at a disadvantage since the dominating heights are held by the Indian military. Pakistan's military has a long history of attempting a direct and frontal approach to military operations. It has abiding faith in its ability to make deep inroads and cut off road arteries. It tried i t in Chhamb and Akhnoor in 1965 and 1971 but, despite initial successes, failed in its objective. In Kargil the same operational philosophy leads it to believe that it can cut the Srinagar-Leh road. This it believes will land into its hands a large chunk of territory, which can be used to force an unfavourable bargain on India.

The Kargil sector extends to about 150 km, with Drass at one end and Batalik at the other. The Pakistani intrusions cover over 100 km of the Kargil sector. The intruders have occupied areas that were not held by Indian troops. Moving such large numbers i n such a large area - even though the extent of intrusion is not large - requires preparation and planning. Irregulars cannot manage such operations without general staff and logistics support. That can only come from an Army - that of Pakistan.

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The intruders are being supported by artillery fire from inside Pakistani territory. They have helicopter support for supplies. The radio frequencies the intruders are using are not of the citizen band but those normally reserved for military purposes. T he Indian Director-General of Military Operation (DGMO) raised this with his Pakistani counterpart on the hotline. He was informed that these might be freedom fighters and Pakistan did not have anything to do with them! Recently, documents found from the areas cleared of the intruders indicated the presence of Pakistani military personnel with the intruders. In the face of this evidence, the inability of major countries to accept Pakistan's claims of innocence was inevitable.

PAKISTAN'S Kargil venture is indicative of two principal influences in Pakistan. First, the long-prevalent doubts about the military in Pakistan running its own foreign policy stand confirmed. This happened in Afghanistan and now there are clear indicato rs of it in the Kargil adventure. It is difficult to believe that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who won his parliamentary majority with a mandate for peace on the subcontinent, could do Lahore as a subterfuge. If it was so, it would be an impossible recor d for him to live down. The second influence is a constructive one: a momentum for peace and stability has been built in Pakistan. The military is finding it difficult to countenance this; this has led to a situation in which it is doing what it does bes t, that is, create a war-like condition to ruin the Lahore dream.

Pakistan's military has presented the political establishment with complex dilemmas. On the one hand, Sharif cannot allow this large group of intruders to be eliminated by Indian military action. On the other, he cannot also accept the consequences of ba cking their presence in Indian territory indefinitely. The intruders would, before long, face the brunt of ground operations by the Indian Army in addition to the air attacks. They are going to be isolated in small groups and eliminated piecemeal, one by one. Under the circumstances, the Pakistan Prime Minister's offer to send his Foreign Minister may be more a pointer to his limited options than to any ability to impose terms. As for the Pakistan military, another defeat in its well-laid plans will be a daunting prospect. The military in Pakistan, even if it tilts at the windmills of peace, will remain an important constituency. It will serve many interests to allow it an exit route out of the impasse. That will strengthen Nawaz Sharif and the peace c onstituency.

As for India, there were only two options to deal with the situation. It has rightly discarded the option of inaction by going for the air attacks. It has sent a clear message on where it will draw the line, on transgression of its sovereignty and territ orial integrity. It has also introduced an element of the unexpected into the Pakistan military's calculations and will thus set it thinking. The loss of aircraft, however unfortunate, cannot be allowed to defer the operational plans to evict the intrusi ons. The threat of elimination in combat will have to remain the principal threat to the intruders and will need to be put into effect. That process is already under way.

Pakistan will make every attempt to seek parleys on equal terms in order to delay the inevitable on the ground and the unpredictable political and international fall-out. It would like the Indian military response to be stopped while talks get started. T he usual arguments about creating the right ambience, allowing tempers to cool, will be trotted out. Not unexpectedly, Pakistan will seek to introduce the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) into the pullout process and thereby bring U.N. observers back into play. After the 1971 war, India had argued that the U.N. observers have no role to play in the bilateral arrangements envisaged under the Shimla Accord.

While the military operations continue - and they should not be terminated until the intrusions are undone - there is a need to be clear about what is the end result expected of the parleys. The pressure for parleys is bound to grow and India will find i t difficult to refuse to join them. It is difficult to see how the talks can be handled at the Foreign Secretary level while intense military and diplomatic action is on. It may be better to constitute two special teams comprising Foreign, Defence, and H ome Ministry officials of appropriate seniority to hammer out the issues. Later, when the talks are concluded, the resulting arrangements can be signed at the appropriate levels.

What is it that needs to be negotiated - other than a pullback by the intruders across the LoC? There is much that can be re-asserted during these talks. The first thing which Pakistan must accept, re-assert and comply with in future is the status of the LoC. It is not a line that can be unilaterally shifted, trespassed upon or violated. The reported statement by a spokesman for the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) that Pakistan does not accept the LoC as sacrosanct will have to be repudiated. It is po ssible to evolve CBMs to ensure that neither side need be anxious about encroachments across the LoC during winter when some posts are vacated. It is also possible to put into place CBMs which allow better joint verification of alleged LoC violations tha n has been possible thus far. There is no harm in intimating each other of a list of posts which are vacated or retained during winter. These measures would obviate the need to maintain military presence in ever-increasing areas and numbers. This would r educe costs and budgets on both sides. It is time that India insisted on political directions to the military in Pakistan to work the CBMs that have been agreed upon.

None of the above can come about by an Indian effort alone. The international response to Indian statements that it is merely clearing its own territory of intruders has been favourable. This can quickly change if Indian military operations continue for very long or if they lead to unpredictable reactions from Pakistan. These will be seen as destabilising by the international community. It will be prudent to control the military operations carefully to keep them at a threshold which does not engender an xieties of a wider conflict. The synergy between the military, diplomatic and political responses will remain an important requirement. The Indian political leadership at the high levels will need to maintain contact internationally to assuage fears and obtain the support necessary for the plans in hand.

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The role of political parties in evolving a response to the Kargil developments will be crucial. In the democratic tradition, they must remain vigilant on the course the Kargil situation takes and be critical of policies when they are inappropriate or in adequate. This is particularly so since the present Government's record in matters of defence management has been the cause of much dissatisfaction. The Government will also do well to remember its caretaker status and keep the political leadership acros s the board informed. A consultative rather than unilateral approach to India's response to Kargil will serve the nation's interests best. Political concern for casualties suffered by the Indian defence and paramilitary forces has been traditionally inad equate. This is viewed by the forces as neglect and political opportunism. A major military operation that takes casualties and does not show concern for the feelings of the troops is a sure recipe for disillusionment among them.

The September of 1999 can be a cruel one in many ways. The Kosovo situation will have to find some outcome before the onset of winter. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is another milestone that is yet to be crossed. This Government, which spent a year claiming credit for the nuclear tests, has done little to evolve a national consensus on the issue. There can be pressures on the caretaker government through all these influences. The elections due in September-October will also be a factor. Thro ugh whom and how will political directions be made available to the Chiefs of Staff Committee during the close combat of the electoral battlefield, which will start soon? This Government, fighting for its life in Parliament, could not find the time for t he needs of the Chiefs of the Services. How will it do so when its political warhorses are out at the hustings? These and other questions on the Government's ability to deliver are already being asked. There is no better time for this Government to demon strate its abilities than in the coming weeks and months.

Kargil has raised many issues and more will become apparent as the situation unfolds. The military option is for the time being the appropriate one; without this, there can be no resolution of the situation created by the Pakistan military. It cannot, ho wever, be the sole option. There is a change in the global tolerance levels of armed conflicts, particularly those which have an impact on other countries. An unrestricted freedom to carry on with the military option indefinitely is no longer a total sov ereign right. Conducting military operations has always required as much political skill as high military competence. The military instrument needs to be used with an understanding of the larger context of regional and international security.

Kargil has brought India and Pakistan to a turning point. It is time to look beyond Kargil to the long-term security implications of the Kashmir issue for the well-being of the two countries. The road map in the long term has to be one of going ahead of the Lahore initiative. It is to be hoped that the map to Lahore and beyond has not been torn and thrown away, in the heat of combat actions in progress.

Lt. Gen. V.R. Raghavan, a former Director-General of Military Operations,is Director of the Delhi Policy Group.

Broadening the base

Pakistan's intrusion into Kargil has taken place in a Muslim-dominated area which maintained a studious distance from terrorism and right-wing secessionist mobilisations.

THERE is a curious quality of stillness to the Kashmir Valley's political landscape, as if the thunder of war from the mountains to its west did not exist at all. On the third day of India's air strikes in Kargil, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah spent sev eral hours ensconced in a meeting at the picturesque town of Gulmarg to discuss, improbably, the prospects of the State's tourism policy. And Srinagar's gossip circuit seems more engaged with the strange tale of just why a State Government helicopter tha t crashed recently was not insured than with the fire directed at Indian combat jets.

However, the brutal fighting in Kargil will almost certainly shape the terms of political discourse within Jammu and Kashmir in the near future. Coming just months before the Lok Sabha elections, Pakistan's Kargil campaign will have a profound impact not only on short-term election processes but on the State's broader political terrain.

Perhaps the most important fact about Pakistan's intrusion into Kargil is that it has taken place in a Muslim-dominated area which maintained a studious distance from both terrorism and right-wing secessionist mobilisations elsewhere in the State. The Zo ji-La pass, which separates Kargil from the Kashmir Valley, marked not only a geographic division, but a discontinuity in cultural and political space. At no point in the last 10 years did Kargil's largely Shia or Drass' predominantly Sunni community sup port Kashmir Valley-based secessionist groups. There was no terrorist activity west of the Zoji-La pass, and although Kargil has its share of Shia chauvinist groups their mobilisations centred principally around local issues.

Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah.

Should Pakistan now be able to sustain armed violence through the Kargil area over the coming months and years, much of that is likely to change. It, along with pro-Pakistan groups in the rest of Jammu and Kashmir, will be able to claim that anti-India i nsurgency has spread to all Muslim-dominated areas of the State. That, in turn, could lay the foundations for a new discourse on Jammu and Kashmir, built along its communal fault lines. The first phase of armed anti-India struggle in Jammu and Kashmir wa s routinely dismissed by strategists as a problem of four valley districts. Few anticipated its rise in the Muslim-dominated areas north of the Chenab in Rajouri and Poonch, or in Doda and Udhampur.

This broadening of the frontiers of anti-India insurgency comes at a time of curious political developments in the State. On April 13, the high-powered Regional Autonomy Commission (RAC) put out a report recommending the creation of eight new provinces, each with an elected provincial council. The stated reason for its recommendation was that "the prevailing classifications of provinces/divisions are hampering the processes of social/human development." In Kashmir, the RAC advocated the creation of thre e provinces, Kamraz province made up of the districts of Baramulla and Kupwara, Nundabad from Budgam and Srinagar and Maraz from Anantnag and Pulwama.

Other recommendations were less innocuous. The existing region of Ladakh, the RAC recommended, should be broken into two new provinces. These would consist of just one district each, those of predominantly Buddhist Leh and predominantly Muslim Kargil. Al ready sundered by the exclusion of Kargil from the Ladakh Autonomous Council which was set up in 1989, the transfiguration of the two districts into provinces would serve only to sharpen communal and ethnic boundaries. In the context of the recent develo pments in Kargil and their political implications, the creation of these new provinces would have obvious significance.

An Army convoy moves through Zoji-La pass, which separates Kargil from the Kashmir Valley. The fighting in Kargil is certain to shape the terms of political discourse within Jammu and Kashmir.

The most dramatic impact of the RAC recommendations would be on Jammu. The RAC report made no effort to hide its authors' motives. The district of Doda and the single Muslim-dominated tehsil of Mahore from the adjoining district of Udhampur would be made into a new Chenab Valley province. Largely Hindu Jammu, Kathua and Udhampur districts would become the Jammu province. Poonch and Rajouri districts, for their part, would form the Pir Panjal province. The existing province of Jammu would thus be turned into three provincial blocks divided along the fault lines of Hindu and Muslim communities in the region.

The RAC report, issued after its Chairman Balraj Puri was dismissed for his stubborn resistance to this communal enterprise, provoked little attention either inside or outside Jammu and Kashmir. It bore remarkable structural similarities to ideas put for ward by the United Nations mediator on Kashmir, Owen Dixon, in 1950. The Dixon Plan called for the international border to run broadly north of the Chenab river, cutting apart predominantly Muslim Doda, Rajouri and Poonch from Jammu, and joining them to the Kashmir Valley. Hindu-dominated Kathua and Jammu would have stayed with India. Shortly after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's bus ride to the Wagah border, an influential United States-based think-tank, the Kashmir Studies Group, had put out a p aper calling in essence for a revival of the Dixon Plan.

Perhaps most important, according to the RAC report, subterranean political tendencies in the State appear overground. Since at least 1996, influential figures in the National Conference have been pushing hard to transform the character of Jammu, a commu nally diverse but culturally coherent region. Surankote MLA Mushtaq Ahmad Bukhari and Finance Minister Mohammad Shafi Uri, both members of the RAC, were among the key figures who called for such restructuring. Prominent Jammu business figure Ramesh Gupta , the brother of Udhampur's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of Parliament Chaman Lal Gupta, had separately made clear his support for a sundering of Jammu from the Kashmir Valley, though for different reasons and on different terms. Jammu and Kashmir 's former princely ruler, Karan Singh, too had expressed support for such a division to senior political figures in the State.

CPI(M) State secretary and MLA Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami.

It takes little to see why Hindu chauvinists and communalists in the ruling National Conference (N.C.) arrived at essentially similar positions. But read in the context of this summer's events in Kargil, such political tendencies appear positively sinist er. While no Indian Government in the foreseeable future will be able to negotiate a territorial settlement on Jammu and Kashmir's future to Pakistan's advantage, the battle in Kargil will clearly create an impact on existing communal tendencies both ins ide and outside the State Government. In the absence of a strong, ideologically committed secular formation in Jammu and Kashmir, moves to carve up the State's people on communal lines will sadly face little real resistance.

Politicians of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) are also certain to benefit from the events in Kargil. Pakistan's willingness to engage Indian troops and hold territory, as well as its success in bringing down two combat aircraft and a helicopter , have given right-wing Islamist organisations within the APHC more than a little reason for cheer. The APHC and its constituency had been profoundly concerned that support for secessionist activity in Jammu and Kashmir would be downscaled in the wake of the Lahore dialogue between Vajpayee and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Now, the direct involvement of the Pakistan Army in the Kargil intrusions has sent a larger signal of support to anti-India organisations in the Kashmir Valley.

A special session of the APHC's executive committee, held in Srinagar on May 27, attacked India's defensive operations in Kargil, claiming that its "unwarranted use of air and ground power has amplified the prospects that peace in this entire region will be put in peril," Interestingly, it suggested that insurgents of Kashmiri origin, rather than Pakistan irregulars and troops, were holding ground in Kargil. "Now that the air force too has been called in to supplement ground troops in order to crush Kas hmiri militants," the APHC statement read, "the Kashmir issue has assumed an ominous dimension in the context of peace and security of the South Asian region." The executive committee condemned the Indian Air Force's bombardment of uninhabited heights in the Kargil area but was predictably silent on Pakistan's shelling of Indian towns and villages.

Combat in Kargil appears to have helped cement the fissures within the APHC over its future political course, at least in the short term. On April 18, pro-Pakistan leader Abdul Gani had called for dialogue with mainstream political organisations, which w ould lead to a joint resolution on the future of Jammu and Kashmir. The basic thrust of this dialogue, Gani said, would be "the lasting resolution to the dispute in accordance with the aims and aspirations of the people." All sections of Kashmir's societ y, he argued, had to be involved in "initiating a genuine political activity." "If (former Chief Minister) Ghulam Mohammad Shah, Congress leaders Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Mehbooba Sayeed, and for that matter even the Communist Party of India (Marxist)'s Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami and the N.C. are interested in the resolution of the dispute, we should rise to the occasion and address the issue," he said.

After the Army sealed the Srinagar airport, tourists stranded in the town look for alternative means of transport.

The APHC's recently re-elected chairman and Jamaat-e-Islami leader Sayyid Ali Shah Geelani had also shown signs of being under pressure from other APHC constituents in April. Shortly after Chief Minister Abdullah called for the APHC to participate in ele ctoral politics and prove its mass credentials, Geelani offered to do so "if seven lakh Indian soldiers are withdrawn from Kashmir." This was a marked departure from the APHC's historic stand that elections would only be relevant under United Nations sup ervision, and as part of a broader resolution of Jammu and Kashmir's future. At a May 5 rally, Geelani rapidly shifted back to his earlier stand, calling for a poll boycott. Although other APHC constituents went along with the call, there was more than a little muttering in the wings. The Kargil developments will help Geelani secure his flanks.

Mainstream political figures appear to have had nothing at all to say about the fighting in Kargil. Abdullah has, true to form, attacked Pakistan's aggression, but other N.C. figures have maintained a studied silence on recent events. No major political figure bar the Chief Minister has even sought to visit the combat zone, and there has been no effort to bring about a coherent political debate on what meaning this summer's events will have for the State. "The only phone calls I get from politicians," s ays one senior police official wryly, "are to ask just when the airport might reopen so they could fly out. They are all concerned the war might escalate, but only because they think their houses in Srinagar might just get bombed."

"Let's face it," says Tarigami, "no one here or anywhere else in India has taken events in Jammu and Kashmir with anything like the seriousness they deserve over the last two years: not politicians, not bureaucrats, not the Army, nor the press. There is a need for a larger dialogue on just where the State is headed, and what needs to be done. At the moment, no one is talking about it at all." When the fighting is over in Kargil, political issues will have to be engaged with, issues which cannot be resol ved in Army Operations Rooms or the corridors of the Ministry of Defence. If the impact that the Kargil war will have on politics in Jammu and Kashmir remains unaddressed, the price for this summer's events will have to be paid long after the last Paki stani post on the mountain heights is obliterated.

On the truth of nuclear deterrence

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Interview with General George Lee Butler.

As Commander of the United States Strategic Command from 1991 to 1994, General George Lee Butler held the top position in the U.S. nuclear war establishment. It was on his recommendation that the U.S. President could have given the orders to launc h a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union, the consequences of which would have spelt the end of civilisation as we know it. Today Butler is one of the world's strongest critics of nuclear weaponisation and the theory of nuclear deterrence, and, owing to the unique position to which he rose, perhaps its most authoritative.

Butler says that he wore three hats as the head of the U.S. Strategic Command. As commander of the U.S. forces he was responsible for the safety and security of the forces; he was in charge of war planning; and he was the principal adviser to the U.S. Pr esident on strategic nuclear issues. At the end of this 30-year journey, and from the vantage point where he stood, Butler arrived at a "personal and professional crossroads". He likes to provide a "15-second reply" when asked the reasons for his moral a nd intellectual transformation with a favourite literary quote of his: "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd."

Butler was in Bangalore recently as part of a U.S. delegation from the Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC) of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, to attend a meeting at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. He spoke to < B>Dr. T. Jayaraman and Parvathi Menon at length about his critique of deterrence, the U.S.-Soviet nuclear stand-off during the Cold War years, and the lessons that that has for other nations that have chosen to traverse the nuclear path.

Excerpts from the interview:

From being a person whose role was to tell the U.S. President when he could push the nuclear button to being perhaps one of the world's most trenchant critics of the idea of nuclear deterrence and nuclear weapons as a means of security, it has been qu ite a swing. How did this happen?

Two things really. First, 30 years of experience in this arena during the course of which I transitioned from what I would say was quite a typical U.S. perspective of someone who lived almost through the entire experience of the Cold War and the consumin g fear that the U.S. lived with the prospect of an immediate, what you would call a 'bolt-out-of-the-blue', nuclear strike from the Soviet Union. Very early in the U.S.-Soviet relationship, we demonised each other. We built caricatures of each other. Mos t of that took place before Stalin died. As the hopes and aspirations at the end of the Second World War began to fade and we saw the Soviet Union establish its hegemony over the eastern part of Europe, as we saw them expanding their orbit and their infl uence, explode their own atom bomb; the Berlin Blockade, Korea.... the impact of this on the U.S. was very traumatic. When the war in Korea broke out we were completely unprepared. For us that was the signal that Communism was on the march, and that it was going to come to dominate Asia - in concert with China of course - because as you remember that we had this big debate on who lost China. So we suddenly saw this Communist wave sweeping the world, and it generated, particularly coupled with the nu clear connections of the Cold War, an atmosphere of fear in the U.S. that just literally consumed us. I've described it as an emotional hijacking - that we had the sense that the Soviet Union was, in (Ronald) Reagan's words, an Evil Empire.

That was the backdrop in which our 50-year relationship with nuclear weapons has to be understood. Because it was that fear that drove us to such extremes that ultimately we were the victim of such excess as fabricating 70,000 nuclear devices. Of buildin g a stockpile that at its peak was 36,000 operational weapons of 115 different types that could be exploded by 65 different means - landmines, torpedoes, artillery shells, large bombs and so on. It explains how we transitioned so easily from a world of long-range aircraft that took hours to reach their targets to missiles that took minutes. Reducing presidential decision time to 12 minutes. With the fate of the world at stake! And yet we came to see all of this as acceptable, even desirable, because it comported with our view that the only way to prevent a nuclear war was the formula of mutually assured destruction.

And then, in the course of that relationship, we reached a point in 1962 with the Cuban missile crisis where literally, the bet, which I view deterrence as... we almost lost the bet. It was while we discovered this that circumstances served us up a situa tion we had never anticipated, and that was that the Soviets would put short-range nuclear missiles in Cuba. We were utterly astonished. We would never have imagined such a thing. But from the Russian perspective that was just quid pro quo for our puttin g our short-range missiles in Turkey. For them it seemed perfectly logical. They were just levelling the playing field. And so, a subtle misunderstanding based on different strategic perspectives very nearly carried the world to a nuclear war, all in the name of deterrence.

I see that history 30 years later from the standpoint of what we now know because the archives have been opened, documents are now available, former antagonists are talking to each other; one of my closest professional colleagues is Marshal Sergeyev, the Defence Minister of Russia. As I discuss with people like him what our perceptions were then, it is very chilling. Because what we had was a very incomplete, distorted and in many cases totally erroneous view of the perceptions of those tensions.

So with respect to your first question of my critique of deterrence. Fundamental in my critique is, in the final analysis, it is not what you think deters, it is what your opponent thinks. And we never knew what he thought. So there is an absolutely fund amental flaw in the psychology of deterrence. And that is, you are not in charge of it, it is your enemy. If your enemy is totally isolated and alienated from you, how can you pretend to think you know what his thoughts, his intentions and his motivation s are? Second, there is an engine at work which in our own experience often took decisions out of our hand - and that was technology. Industry comes in and says, "I have a new weapon. I have a new aircraft. I have a new missile." The third of course is t hat circumstances change, governments change, people change. And what would seem as prudent and wise today may be taken out of your hands tomorrow by a different view that says no, we must build more. A crisis arises, and all assumptions and decisions th at you made go out of the window, and deterrence takes on a whole new hue.

So, that is my answer to your question. How did I make this transition? I made this transition because over a period of 30 years, as I rose in rank and responsibility, and was given additional duties, what I also got was access. The secrecy was so impene trable that there were only that (holds up his hands to gesture the figure 10) many people at any given time in the U.S. who truly have access to all the information that would be essential to trying to comprehend this enormously complex business.

The second thing was that my experience was unique. If you really want to be deeply knowledgeable, such that you can reflect usefully and intelligently on the subject, here is what you have to master.

* Theory. You can spend a lifetime trying to do just that.

* Policy. Who writes policy? Where does it come from? What is the relationship to theory?

* Intelligence. The U.S. intelligence community is one of the most complex cultures that you would ever imagine. It comprises at least a dozen agencies, not just the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). But those agencies all have their own cultures, belie f systems, histories, traditions. How do you get anything intelligent out of them?

* War plan. The strategic nuclear war plan in the U.S. is the most closely held secret that we have. Very few people have access to it, let alone understanding.

* Nuclear weapons design and fabrication. The laboratories are cultures all to themselves. You can spend a lifetime trying to understand a laboratory. The DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) here in India? Who understands their role? How complex is it? Imagine our own circumstances.

* The military-industrial complex. All the giant corporations involved, with their own motivations and intentions. In fact, we spent $ 6 trillion in 50 years on this.

* Operational practices. Thousands of war plans. Thousands of missiles. Dozens of submarines. All operating under the authority of individual services who are cultures, with their own views, who are in competition for money, and whose operations are very secret.

* Arms control. Arms control is at the centre of this whole business since the early 1960s. In our country there is a very keen observer who once described arms control as a "holy war". The CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty), Fissile Material Cutoff Tr eaty, the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty). Feelings run very deep on this score.

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Well, I spent my life in all of those cultures and had access in a way to all of them. It's unique - I spent thousands of hours at the negotiating table with my soldiers and generals. I was the commander of the nuclear forces. I owned the submarines and the airplanes and the land-based missiles. I was the nuclear adviser to the President. It was my job to say: "Mr. President, my recommendation is...", and thus the prospect of sounding the death-knell for 250 million people. I was the Director of the St aff that built the U.S. nuclear war plan - 12,500 targets. And when I took that job, I looked at every single one of those targets. Every... single... one. No one in history had ever done that. They would look at batches of targets. No. If you don't go t hrough them in that detail, you don't begin to see all the breakdowns of logic and the gaps between policy and planning. You don't see what we all should have understood, which is the natural tendency of bureaucracies to want more, to do more, to hide th eir knowledge and their thoughts.

So in 1991, just as I come to these responsibilities and get this knowledge, a wholly unanticipated, miraculous thing happens. The Cold War ends. Now what was I to do? A typical bureaucratic response? Defend my empire? Defend my budget? Defend my forces? Defend my people? Continue to portray Russia as a threat?

No. My conclusion was quite the opposite. We escaped the Cold War without a nuclear holocaust by some combination of skill, luck and divine intervention, and I think mostly the latter. Secondly, as I came to understand the magnitude of the nuclear war pl an, and of the consequences of its execution - what would happen if we actually launched 8,000 thermo-nuclear warheads against Russia in response to 10,000 nuclear missiles launched by them? The first thing that I understood was that in our calculation o f the effects of the war plan the only element we took into account was blast deaths. Blast - the force of the explosion - not fire, not radiation, and certainly not the holistic effects if that many weapons exploded anywhere across the globe. I was abso lutely astounded. I thought that was simple common sense, just logic. But now I understand what happens in large bureaucracies that have very little oversight over a period of many years.

As I came to appreciate the consequences of the execution of a nuclear war plan, I reached my second conclusion. These aren't weapons at all. We are doing them a great disservice by calling them weapons. That is too mundane a term to describe what happen s in a nuclear explosion. I have described them in my public remarks so that people understand what I am really thinking of is a species of biological and genetic time-bomb, whose effects transcend time and space. They are poised to deform the world and its inhabitants for generation after generation. That is what we are dealing with. I frequently hear people talk about nuclear weapons as if they were hand-grenades. One is catastrophe unparalleled. And yet we talk about them in round numbers as if they were just ordinary things. It is part of the effect of the emotional hijacking.

My third conclusion was that mutual assured destruction was a formula for unmitigated disaster because of what Carl Sagan has described as nuclear winter. That is a very real phenomenon and so what was at stake was not just the fate of antagonists; it wa s the fate of man. We... never... understood... that. The Russians however came to understand it after Chernobyl. A single element of a single nuclear power pack explodes, and there is a relative puff of radioactivity compared to one nuclear weapon, and look at the results. Hundreds dead; thousands condemned to deformities, not just in this but in the next generation. Hundreds of thousands of hectares taken out of production for years to come. We can recall the horror of that and yet we still are casual about a nuclear war involving 20,000 nuclear missiles.

So that's my journey. It took me 30 years to accumulate the experience, to gain access, because of the authority I was given, the responsibilities to utter the words: "Mr. President, I recommend a major nuclear response to this attack." I did it every mo nth for 37 months in simulated nuclear war exercises. And then to look at that war plan, and to go back and try and understand how in the world could anyone imagine that that was a rational thing to do. It was the single most preposterous, absurdly irres ponsible war plan. With the possible exception of the Soviet plan, which imagined even more weapons than these. Their attack probably would have involved 10,000 nuclear weapons. When I talk about this with public audiences, I give them a calculation to h elp them understand what that means. There are 50 States in the United States of America. You just divide the number of Soviet warheads evenly by the number of States. That's 200 per State. I live in the State of Nebraska. There are only a million and a half people in Nebraska and half of them live in two cities. You could utterly destroy the State of Nebraska ... with two nuclear warheads, and you still have 198 left.

When I listen to the words of other states, which are in a different part of their experience, in the beginning, that is why I came back into the public arena. I just wanted you to know my experience and the lessons that I have learnt. It may have nothin g to do with yours, but I would seem irresponsible if I didn't make you aware of my reflections. So if you do find it useful, then, there's no charge!

One of the issues raised by the people who have opposed India going towards nuclear weapons is the strong element of jingoism in the discourse in India and Pakistan in their politics, the ultra-nationalism of various kinds, the elements of religious t ensions internal to countries, that spill over into policymaking in international affairs. So, given that these strains may be there, and without exaggerating them too much, what would be the prospects for stability if India deploys a minimum nuclear det errent?

Whatever the relationship between India and Pakistan, there is bound to be a dynamic between them now with a nuclear dimension that wasn't there earlier. It's a new element. So I think that the great challenge that these two nations face is to understand how this new element intersects with all the little flames down here that keep the pot boiling with regard to the nature of the relationship - jingoism or nationalism, scientists who have a personal stake in this, industry which stands to make some mon ey... they may not be within your control. Part of my understanding is that in India, the public is never really drawn into the debates, there has not really been any public debate about nuclear weapons policy and planning.

In the U.S. volumes were written on this. Well, as you get into your nuclear experience and the public is drawn into it, to the degree that this might fuel the flames, a great challenge is going to be how you control the degree to which that feeds back i nto your view of deterrence and the size of your war plan. Public sentiment can be a very powerful thing. We've been through that many times in our own experience. Are India and Pakistan immune from those tensions, temptations and pitfalls? Perhaps so. B ut it is a reality that we went through, and it is part of what informs my own concern, which is that deterrence is not static. It's very dynamic, it's very susceptible to conditions that arise and relationships that are imposed on you by scientific disc overy or the self-serving interest of this or that section.

In India the dynamic would be that if weaponisation continues as projected, then it would be a three-way dynamic as China is involved.

Of course. That's a very different matter from our dynamic in the U.S.-Soviet context. So, yes. You're in new territory here with imagining how deterrence works in a three-legged relationship.

One part of the assessment that some people have written about is that for some period of time it is likely to be a two-legged deterrence with more build-up being required before China really enters the equation which will primarily be between India a nd Pakistan.

It would be interesting to talk to China about how they view that. Because at the end that's what matters. Does it have any relationship with how people think in Beijing? How do they look at this? I've heard a variety of assessments.

In the context of South Asia, will it be possible to devise a command and control system that will be able to cope with the dangers of nuclear build-up in India and Pakistan given their geographical proximity?

It depends on how serious you want to be about it. With respect to the U.S. and the Soviet Union for example - and that is $ 6 trillion we spent - a significant fraction of that was spent on early warning, space-based and land-based. Because deterrence absolutely depends on, if it is going to be stable, continuous knowledge of what the other side or sides are doing. One of the things that currently worries us about Russia is that two-thirds of its satellites are out of operation. There is a sector that they just don't see at all and that worries us. Lack of that information may cause some rumour that can be blown out of proportion. So question number one is how serious do you want to be about early warning. Secondly, communications. My headquarters wa s the communications centre of the universe. I could communicate with my forces in a dozen different ways. Under any circumstance, even in the midst of an incoming attack, I wanted to be absolutely sure that I had command and control. But that is not all . There's the whole question of coding and surveying military relationships, and who has authority and should that authority be passed on? These are just some of the questions that India and Pakistan have to address to convince themselves and anyone else who is interested that they are serious about command and control. I read the words of (Minister for External Affairs) Jaswant Singh who has given very knowledgeable expression to the fact that India knows how to command and control its forces, you don' t have to worry about that. We are a responsible, democratic country, we can do it. And I applaud that, it gives me a great deal of confidence. But at the same time, I know what lies ahead if you want to put real substance behind that statement.

Could you tell us something about the foundation you have started?

In the fall of 1995 when the French resumed nuclear testing, I was personally dismayed at this - as someone who at the end of his career had the opportunity to begin to scale back nuclear dangers, to shrink the forces, to shrink the war plans, to take bo mbers off alert, to cancel modernisation programmes, and to see the START II Treaty signed, believing that it would be completely ratified. And then of course, the START II treaty languished on our side for three years, at which point events in Russia es sentially made it redundant. The U.S. still has the same nuclear weapons policy that they had in 1984.

So here we are, five years later, and not only has there not been any significant progress, but in many respects the momentum has stalled and in many cases it's reversing. I could not sit quietly and watch this happen. For me the defining moment was when I was asked to join the Canberra Commission. My personal position was sure to draw strong criticism, it would probably cost me most of my former friendships and would impose a great burden on my personal time and effort. But I made a commitment to speak out which I did in December of 1996 at the National Press Club. My objective then was to put the issue of abolition back on the agenda in a serious manner, in the hope that the novelty that a former commander of the nuclear programme campaigning for abo lition might rekindle interest, but more than that, for action on this.

The charter of the foundation I established in December 1998, called Second Chance, is to promote public education and awareness about the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. The second part of the charter is to sponsor activities I believe would be useful in reducing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. There is no mission on abolition or elimination, the focus is on dangers because I think that's what matters now. If we get to zero, then I think that's terrific, but I think we're only going to get ther e by doing things in the interim that will reduce the interest and ultimately the numbers which matter a great deal less than the policies and the postures that drive those numbers.

A forum for heart care

A Chennai-based doctor, along with some of his patients, launches a forum to gather information on the various aspects of heart diseases in order to help reverse and prevent heart ailments.

A LONG-TIME ambition of Dr. V.V. Bashi, cardiothoracic and vascular surgeon at the Malar Heart Foundation in Chennai, was to help reverse and prevent heart ailments. He realised it on April 8 when he and some of his patients launched the "Heart Care Foru m of India" at the Foundation, where dozens of surgical procedures are performed every day.

The Forum primarily aims at collecting and collating epidemiological data on heart diseases in India. The data are to be used to identify and monitor high-risk groups such as smokers, alcoholics, hypertensives and people with a history of heart disease i n their families; recognise hereditary diseases; monitor food habits; document lifestyle changes; and so on. The Forum will also educate people who have undergone bypass surgery on how to resume normal life.

Dr. Bashi says: "Although concrete data are not available, the incidence of the disease seems to have increased. In the United States (data are available in the case of the U.S.), the number of people who die of heart diseases is larger than the total nu mber of people who die because of cancer, AIDS (Acquired Immune Defi-ciency Syndrome) and accidents put together. Lifestyle changes, tension, workplace pressures and irregular eating habits are some of the reasons for this phenomenon. Awareness about the risks people are exposed to can go a long way in reversing and controlling heart diseases."

In order to spread awareness, the high-risk groups need to be identified. The survey, to be undertaken with the help of some Chennai-based colleges and the World University Services, will cover Chennai first and then other metropolitan cities. The Forum also plans to start a support group to arrange for the supply of blood and to assist patients and their families.

Needy patients will be provided financial assistance and help in procuring aid from the Prime Minister's and the Chief Minister's relief funds as well as from charitable institutions. The Forum has been assured of support from other sources as well. Dr. Bashi will donate 20 per cent of his earnings towards the Forum, and Malar Hospital chairman Dr. S. Ramamurthy Rs.500 per surgical procedure. One can become a life member of the Forum by donating Rs.1,000 or a patron by donating Rs.10,000. According to F orum president N.K. Koteswaran, tie-ups with insurance companies have been planned to get a better deal for patients.

THE Malar Heart Foundation specialises in valve repair, arterial grafts and treatment of aortic aneurysms. In the last three years, under the guidance of Dr. Bashi, the Foundation has carried out more than 1,000 complicated surgical procedures. The succ ess rate has been 99.5 per cent, which is comparable to that of some of the best hospitals in the world. (The success rate of bypass surgery in the U.S. last year was 95 per cent.)

Dr. Bashi, who is clinical director and chief surgeon of the foundation, has pioneered different kinds of cardiothoracic and vascular surgical procedures: clearing a clogged artery, repairing a defective heart valve or deflating a bulging aorta. He uses arteries for coronary bypass (total arterial revascularisation) surgery, which dramatically improves the results compared to the conventional procedure of using veins. While the chances of a vein graft getting blocked after 10 years is 60 per cent, in th e case of an arterial graft it is five per cent. This is because arteries can withstand pressure better. Not many surgeons prefer arterial graft because it is a difficult method. Dr. Bashi has done 400 arterial grafts with a hundred per cent success rate .

Similarly, where most surgeons replace impaired valves with mechanical ones, he tries to fix them, however arduous the procedure may be. He is one of the few surgeons in the country who corrects aortic aneurysm (balloon-like enlargement of blood vessels) . In this difficult procedure, the patient is put on a heart-lung machine before the blood circulation is stopped and the body is cooled to 150 Celsius. The heart and the aorta are drained of blood, and the aneurysm is deflated. The brain is kept alive for about an hour at a low temperature and with minimal blood circulation. In order to reduce the risk of brain damage, it is reperfused with cold blood from the heart-lung machine through the superior vena cava. As the functioning of the brain can be su stained in this manner for about an hour, aneurysm has to be deflated within that time.

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Dr. Bashi performed total replacement of the thoracic aorta barely four months after the path-breaking procedure was performed in the U.S. Arising from the heart and arching over it to continue towards the chest and abdomen, the aorta is the largest arte ry. The part of it that lies in the chest is the thoracic aorta. If the walls of the aorta lose their muscular integrity and become lax, aneurysm develops: the artery balloons outwards, yielding to the pressure of the blood.

Dr. Bashi operated upon a patient who had aneurysm of the entire thoracic aorta, which had bloated to a huge pulsating mass, pressing the lungs. Its bursting could have proved fatal. The diseased aorta had to be replaced with a synthetic graft in two sta ges. The aneurysm had to be deflated, the valves replaced and coronary bypass surgery done. The patient, Sister Gladys, came from Kenya. The entire surgery cost her Rs.2.5 lakhs whereas it would have cost $70,000 (Rs.30 lakhs) in the U.S.

Dr. Bashi has pioneered a procedure for rare metabolic disorders: dissecting aneurysm. A 40-year-old patient's aorta had ruptured and the patient collapsed. On opening up her heart, it was found that the coronary arteries were separated, the aortic valve was leaking and there was no blood supply to the rest of the body. Any organ - liver, kidney or intestine - could have failed. This condition was corrected, and the patient now leads a normal life.

Dr. Bashi also did the country's first highly complicated "elephant trunk procedure" to correct the aortic arch aneurysm, and the first "autograph stenting", in which a stent is covered with a vein before being fixed.

He corrects the defects of the mitral valve while most doctors prefer the easier option of replacing it. Although a difficult operation, it is better to repair the valve because in that case there is no need for life-long medication and the risk of the formation of blood clots that might travel to the brain is the minimum. In the long-run, while a mechanical valve needs to be replaced, a repaired valve continues to work for a longer time and saves the trouble of continuous monitoring. Patients are also spared the trouble of taking for a long period of time medicines that thin the blood. While 65 per cent of patients survive 10 years after valve replacement, the success rate in the case of valve repairs is 95 per cent.

In 1997, Dr. Bashi repaired the valve of an 84-year-old patient, the oldest patient to undergo a successful valve repair. He has performed coronary bypass surgery for a congenital abnormality, the anomalous origin of the left coronary artery, on a six-ye ar-old child, the youngest patient to undergo this operation.

Dr. Bashi says that he never does a surgical procedure unless he is 100 per cent sure of the results, and more important, its implications. He says: "It is easy to decide to do a surgical procedure on a patient but not so to decide against it. That comes only from experience."

THE treatment for cardiac ailments has developed immensely in the last three decades. In the 1970s, when coronary bypass surgery was beginning to gain acceptance, everyone thought that a hundred per cent cure had been found. That was not so; bypass surge ry is only a palliative. In the 1980s, balloon angioplasty became popular; this also did not solve heart problems.

According to Dr. Bashi, great strides are being made the world over in the fields of medicine, genetics, diet management and use of traditional approaches such as yoga in the treatment of cardiac problems. India has the infrastructure and expertise to pe rform sophisticated procedures such as keyhole surgery, he says. "But," according to Dr. Bashi, "epidemiological research is what India should concentrate on." Dr. Bashi says that the incidence of heart ailments is likely to be close to one million in In dia. Only 35,000 bypass surgical procedures were performed last year. So there is a need to spread awareness about preventive measures.

Dr. Bashi, who has published over 50 technical articles in international medical journals, is now focussing his research on the effects of different types of cooking oil, varying lipid (cholesterol) profiles and dietary patterns on the heart. The data co llected by the Heart Care Forum will be used for these studies.

Alone, near the top

The recent discovery of the body of George Mallory on Everest revives a decades-old debate on the question whether the schoolteacher-turned-mountaineer reached the summit of the world's highest mountain.

In the days of peace, England will always hold some who are not content with humdrum routine and soft living. The spirit which animated the attacks on Everest is the same as that which has prompted Arctic and other expeditions, and in earlier times le d to the formation of the Empire itself. Who shall say that any of its manifestations are not worthwhile? Who shall say that its inspiration has not a far-reaching influence on the race? It is certain that it would go rusty with disuse, and expeditions l ike the attempt to scale Everest serve to whet the sword of ambition and courage.

- The Morning Post, London, on George Mallory and Andrew Irvine's deaths, June 24, 1924.

FROM 1926, two years after George Mallory and Andrew Irvine died on the heights of Everest, a succession of mystical accounts of their death began to emerge. Austrian climber Firdo Kordon, after attending a seance with his son as medium, claimed that bot h had reached the summit of the world's highest mountain. Irvine, he said, had collapsed on the summit, while Mallory fell to his death on the way down. Their colleague on the 1924 expedition and the last man to see them alive, Noel Odell, later heard si milar accounts from both a Canadian mystic and a Scottish artist who had heard the story from a psychic friend.

Many of the claims made about Mallory in the wake of the discovery of his body on Everest in May raise the same discursive questions as the mystical revelations of 1926. The claims come in the wake of the discovery of Mallory's body by the British-Ameri can Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition. The team based its search on reports from Chinese climber Wang Hangbao, who in 1975 saw an "old English" body. But why has an excavation of the events of June 8, 1924 come about? Why has the discovery of Mallor y's body led many people to claim that he was indeed the first man to set foot on the summit of Everest? And what ideological purposes does this interrogation of the history of Everest climbs serve?

The answers are, predictably, deeply rooted in history and necessitate engagement with the fact that the conquest of Everest was at its core a colonial enterprise.

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The first tangible step towards its realisation came with the appointment of Lord Curzon as Viceroy of India in 1898. With rumours of the Tibet's Dalai Lama planning an alliance with the Tsar of Russia in the air, Curzon commissioned the adventurer-soldi er Francis Younghusband to lead a military incursion. In 1904, in the wake of a bloody four-month campaign, Younghusband took Lhasa. The Dalai Lama fled to Mongolia. The British now focussed their attempts on resisting Chinese efforts to establish sovere ignty in Tibet, by arming local groups. When Chinese troops took Tibet in 1910, the Dalai Lama took refuge in India. An insurrection forced the Chinese out two years later, but a grateful Dalai Lama had evolved a special relationship with Britain, based on its generous arms supplies.

Younghusband had opened a route to Tibet. Secretary of State John Morley, intensely opposed to Curzon's policy in India, resisted the idea of an expedition. Such an expedition to Everest, he argued, would provoke Russian suspicion and endanger the emergi ng entente between the Tsar and imperial Britain. In the wake of the Great War of 1914-18, these equations changed. The Russian empire was in ruins, and the new revolutionary regime had little interest in expansion southwards. China too had seen rebellio n. The expedition through Tibet was now no longer a strategic issue. On April 26, 1920, the first Expedition Committee was set up in London, resolving to send members out with the "principal object" of "the ascent of Mount Everest".

"Where White Man Has Never Trod," proclaimed one British newspaper when the Royal Geographical Society formally announced its first Everest expedition in January 1921. With the Depression having taken hold of Europe, and its working class radicalised by the brutal butchery inflicted by the elite during the War of 1914-18, the expedition appeared a comforting diversion, an assertion of the values that made imperial Britain. Finance was slow to come, but these obstacles were overcome, interestingly, by co mmercial newspaper sponsorship. One observer caustically suggested that the Royal Geographical Society's professional secretary Howard Hinks "go to Lord Leverhume and say, give us 10,000, and we will take a large cake of Sunlight Soap and a flag also wi th Sunlight Soap emblazoned on it, and we will plant them on top of Everest".

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The 1921 team was in many ways ill-fated: many of its members were unfit. It had few skilled mountaineers, and the members were often at odds with one another. One of them, however, was to be associated in public perception with Everest more than any oth er person until Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary finally reached the summit. George Mallory, a schoolteacher at Charterhouse, was an unlikely candidate for fame. At Cambridge, he had an undistinguished academic record, despite the brilliant company of R upert Brooke and Lytton Strachey. His principal assets were his looks - the homosexual Strachey described him in a letter to the author Virginia Woolf as possessing "a face - oh incredible - the mystery of Botticelli, the refinement and delicacy of a Ch inese print, the youth and piquancy of an unimaginable English boy."

Mallory's climbing credentials were poor. His colleague on Everest, Geoffrey Young, said that Mallory, compared with his contemporaries, was the "greatest in unfulfilled achievement". None of his climbs before the fateful 1924 expedition is remembered by climbers, and Mallory himself showed little interest in the project. He described Tibet as "a hateful country inhabited by hateful people." In his letters, he insisted on describing the 1921 expedition's Sherpa porters as "coolies", and on one occassion was evidently surprised that one, though "slightly built", could keep up with him uphill.

In the end, though beaten by the onset of the monsoon, the 1921 expedition made significant gains. It surveyed the mountain from each side and discovered a practical route to it from the north. But Mallory himself seemed little interested in a second att empt. "Never mind Everest and its unfriendly glories," he wrote to his friend David Pye. "I'm tired of travelling and travellers, far countries and uncouth people, trains and ships and shimmering mausoleums, foreign ports, dark-skinned faces and a garish sun." This unsavoury and blatantly racist attitude, albeit common to the British ruling class of the period, has largely been censored out of media accounts of Mallory's character.

However, the schoolteacher chose to go up again, in 1922. This time, learning from its experiences, the expedition did better. George Finch and Geoffrey Bruce, the latter a military officer with no previous climbing experience, made it to 27,000 feet. Th at was the only time a climber has set a new world altitude record on his first attempt. The 1922 expedition used oxygen for the first time, an idea initially Mallory rejected because it went against his romantic ideas about mountain conquest. His record on the expedition was marred by a tragic incident, when seven Sherpas lost their lives in an avalanche below the North Col after being ordered to climb in bad snow conditions.

Back in England, Mallory found himself out on a financial limb. Without a job and with a family to support, he tried unsuccessfully to make a living giving lectures on his expeditions in the United States. On his return he did land a job but was raring t o go to Everest again. His opportunity came in 1924. "We are going to sail to the top this time and God with us," he wrote to his friend Tom Longstaff, "or stamp to the top with our teeth in the wind." A first attempt by Geoffrey Bruce and Mallory was be aten back by the weather, while Edward Norton made it to a confirmed 28,126 feet, a record that would stand for 30 years. Now, Mallory chose Irvine for a final crack at the summit.

Odell, on a geological reconnaissance trip, was the sole eyewitness to what happened next. "I noticed far away on a snow slope leading up to what seemed to me to be the last step but one from the base of the final pyramid, a tiny object moving and approa ching the rock step. A second object followed, and then the first climbed to the top of the step. As I stood intently watching this dramatic appearance, the scene became enveloped in cloud once more, and I could not actually be certain that I saw the sec ond figure join the first. It was, of course, none other than Mallory and Irvine." Odell first believed that he had seen the two on the second step on Everest, a wall of rock near the summit.

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On reflection, however, Odell concluded that Mallory and Irvine must have been on the first step, much lower down the mountain. This, Walt Unsworth points out in his exhaustive discussion of the issue in his book Everest, was affirmed when Chinese climbe rs took five hours to climb the sheer face of the second step for the first time in 1960. "Even allowing for the many inconsistencies of the Chinese report," Unsworth points out, "it is obvious that the second step could not have been climbed in five min utes, as Odell suggested. " Given that an ice axe belonging to either Mallory or Irvine was discovered in 1933 near the first step, as the body has been now, it seems likely that was indeed the scene of the accident. Mallory's body was still roped, sugge sting Irvine must have fallen with him.

"OBTERRAS LONDON - MALLORY IRVINE NOVE REMAINDER ALCEDO - NORTON RONGBUK," read the telegram despatched when all hope was lost. But did the two make it to the summit? Mallory's admirers insisted he had, as they have done after the discovery of his body. But if Mallory was on the first step, he would have had no time to make it to the summit and back before night made movement near-impossible. Then, although Mallory's sunglasses were in his pocket, which some have used to claim that the fall must have ta ken place at night on the way down the ridge, it could equally well suggest that he simply took them off while waiting to die after the fall.

Authorities like Hillary have made clear their scepticism of claims, provoked by the discovery of the body, that Irvine or Mallory made it to the top. This opinion may have to be revised if photographs of Mallory on the summit are indeed found in his cam era, a profoundly unlikely possibility. But why should such claims have resurfaced in the first place, when evidence clearly does not exist to revise already-known expert beliefs?

In some senses, it matters not at all whether Mallory made it to the top or not. The rediscovery of Mallory's climb in Western mass imagination, and the privileging of his achievement over that of Norgay and Hillary, seeks again to invest with romance th e failed imperial climbing project of the pre-Second World War period. That a brown subject and a colonial were the first to reach the top of Everest sits uncomfortably with renewed claims of imperial cultural supremacy. Perhaps not coincidentally, the e nterprise has come when the projection of Western imperialist values has acquired a renewed political immediacy. Wangbao's 1975 discovery, after all, launched no great revivalist searches. Mallory's body is merely a pretext: the real story lies, as in th e early 1920s, not on the heights of Everest but in distant wars, this time in Iraq and Bosnia.

LETTERS

other
Narmada Valley projects

Congratulations for the remarkable Cover Essay ("The Greater Common Good", June 4). Rarely has an issue of such interest and significance received due prominence in the recent history of the Indian media. It is even more rare that the politics behind an important development issue is written about with such power and effect and without an iota of exaggeration or inaccuracy. Salutes to Arundhati Roy for choosing to stand up to be counted.

For far too long, under the guise of technical and expert knowledge, society has ignored fundamental questions such as what is development, development for whom, at what cost and at whose cost. There is no doubt that large dams have contributed to a cert ain amount of development. But never - not for one out of the over 3,300 dams built in independent India - have governments raised questions about their benefits and costs and about who has reaped the benefits and who has paid the price. Having been invo lved in these issues for over a decade, one wishes that these developmental issues are brought out from the hold of experts, bureaucrats, politicians and academics and turned into issues of public interest, as they truly are.

These developmental issues are crucial for the very survival of democratic governance. We pride ourselves in being the largest functioning democracy in the world. But democracy does not exist for hundreds of millions of people. If 50 million people (and that is a very conservative estimate and the Government, for its part, does not have the figures) can be displaced in the name of development without just or humane treatment, what democracy are we talking about? Politicians are not bothered about these issues, bureaucrats are not interested, the media for most part are least interested. The market, the god of the last few decades of this millennium, would wish that such problems do not exist. Parliament has no interest in such issues. Aid agencies suc h as the World Bank, the biggest financier of large dams, is happy that they have very good principles of resettlement; they do not care whether the principles implied policies, provisions or mechanisms to ensure their implementation. If the latest deve lopments on the Sardar Sarovar Project are any indication, the judiciary too is not ready to give the most marginalised sections of society their due. Where is the place for the poor and the marginalised in our democracy?

Are large dams effective even in achieving the ends they set out to achieve? Let us take just one aspect of the argument - the most vocal part. An impression is sought to be created that food self-sufficiency (very different from food security for the po orest people, which is far from being achieved) of the nation is due to the large dams. We did a simple calculation to find out how much of the food production in post-Independence India is due to large, canal-based irrigation projects. The answer was su rprising - less than 12 per cent of the additional food production in post-Independence India. And what enormous costs society has paid for this marginal gain! All indications are that had India taken the alternative path of harvesting rain, the gains w ould have been much larger, much less painful and much more equitable and sustainable. But thanks to the self-seeking people in government and the ever-helpful aid agencies such as the World Bank, that path was never taken.

After spending 50 years and over Rs.100,000 crores in water resources development, if the number of people who are without safe drinking water and basic necessities is bigger than before, if more villages are without an adequate source of water, more peo ple are malnourished, if more areas are flood-prone and if damage due to floods is rising with each passing year, what development, what democracy are we talking about? Are huge projects such as the Sardar Sarovar compatible with democratic functioning? The answer, if we dare to answer honestly, is a big no.

I hope that this critique of the Narmada Valley projects by Arundhati Roy will lead to a genuine debate on these issues.

Himanshu Thakkar Baroda * * *

It is a delight to see a newsmagazine like yours publishing something on big dams on the cover.

Arundhati Roy's article communicates the horrors of such development that plague this country and cause trouble to its people. We have become experts at displacing millions of people, besides destroying tens of thousands of hectares of forest land and th en putting up concrete giants that provide nothing for people other than those who milk the country dry. We are tired of hearing about "electricity" and the "irrigation" needs of this country. Our businessmen and political leadership are damaging the fut ure of the nation with projects like Sardar Sarovar. The people of this country must act and stop this project. Let us set a precedent; let us end the massive trauma of a river, a people and the entire ecological system around. It is truly a moment for e veryone to join hands with the Narmada Bachao Andolan and end the horrors of this project.

Valmik Thapar New Delhi * * *

I read Arundhati Roy's expose of the farce that is development, several times, with tears in my eyes. They were tears of rage, anger. The most powerful weapon of mass destruction - as Arundhati so poignantly points out - after big dams and nuclear weapo ns is the development model and the powers that be who are pushing it down the people's throat. We need more of such exposes; we need to remove the holiness ascribed to development and progress which are achieved at the cost of 50 million lives.

It may be that the Iron Triangle will not read Roy's article or, having read it, will tend to dismiss it as emotional propaganda funded by foreign hands. But to all those who have been protesting against the destruction that is passed on as progress and development, it will serve as a major morale booster. Protest - that is all that we can do.

The author could consider publishing it as a separate booklet, which could be translated into Indian languages and circulated widely.

Amit Mitra New Delhi * * *

Each and every word of the Cover Essay was heart-breaking. Thank you for publishing the essay.

Karimbam K.P. Rajeevan Thaliparamba, Kerala * * *

Arundhati Roy's essay is a brilliant piece of writing focussing on the huge human costs of and the tremendous destruction of the environment caused by big dams. Despite having knowledge of these costs and the human misery, our planners are bent upon exec uting these big dams, aided by funding agencies such as the World Bank which turn a blind eye to the woes of the affected people and the submergence of forests. It is heartrending that people are uprooted from their homes of generations, to be turned int o refugees in their own land. The rehabilitation package is too small and comes too late.

A point that must be noted by the anti-big dam activist is that some of the projects are in an advanced stage and hence it is not practical to roll these back. The best that can be done is to speed up the rehabilitation of the displaced persons by involv ing the villagers and the tribal people concerned along with the activists fighting for justice. It should be possible to find land and forests nearer to their erstwhile homes so that they do not feel so totally lost in an alien environment, as happened when those who were displaced from Madhya Pradesh were asked to settle in Gujarat. A compromise must be reached on the height of any dam so that submergence is the minimum, with minimum damage caused to forests and hills.

The time has come to plan new dams with greater care than is being done at present. While it may not be possible to avoid big dams totally, the environment and the people concerned should be the priority before projecting a return on investment (ROI) in terms of water, irrigation and power potential. Small is beautiful, with minimum damage to the environment and the least displacement of people, and better than building big dams which cause enormous problems, are very expensive and have doubtful ROI. En vironmental activists must be proactive in suggesting alternatives, instead of adopting a laissez faire approach until projects are finalised and work has started and then beginning their agitations.

And lastly, the Minister for Environment at the Centre and in the States must be a full-fledged Cabinet Minister whose voice is respected. The Minister must put his or her foot down on projects which harm the environment and hurt people living at and nea r the sites of the projects. The Minister must be more concerned with the human and environmental costs of dams than the benefits in terms of water, agriculture and power since he or she would be working solely to protect the interests of the people and the environment.

D.B.N. Murthy Bangalore * * *

In the country, electoral politics is one way of channelling one's anger. Several groups in our society have grown in power over the last 50 years from positions of near-powerlessness. It was not mentioned - and it is not clear - whether this very powerf ul means of redressing one's grievances is being used by the affected people of the Sardar Sarovar and other dams. Had the details of why the Supreme Court removed the stay on the construction been given, they would have thrown more light on the legal as pects of the issue.

With warm regards, and in expression of support to the NBA.

Dr. Samir Kelekar Bangalore * * *

Your Cover Essay has given me new hope. If Arundhati Roy has the confidence to write on the complex issue of big dams and Frontline decides to print it, then I tell myself that maybe I can be the star performer of the Bolshoi Ballet Company even t hough I am 92 years of age. Thank you for making me believe that anything is possible.

P. Namboodiri Mumbai * * *

Arundhati Roy has once again chosen to be the darling of ignorant "activists". Her article reminds me of a poster in our laboratory, a message to animal-right activist: "Animal experiments have increased life expectancy by 20 years, it is up to you to de cide how to spend it." Her stance on the nuclear tests in Pokhran last year and the current article only expose her Green leanings.

Sure, the Government deserves the blame for its callous attitude in dealing with "displaced" people. And certainly babudom does not make life easier for the tribal people. But that cannot stand in the way of developmental activities. What else would Arun dhati Roy suggest as a solution to the bitter energy and water crisis in the country? Certainly she would not want India to be a land of tribal people for ever, would she? Small is beautiful only on paper. Only big and bold ideas have liberated this worl d from dark ages. Individual freedom has to be sacrificed in the national interest. It is a pity that activists lack a macroscopic perspective. And seldom do they come up with a viable alternative.

Anand Parthasarathi Michigan, U.S. * * *

You seem to have lost all sense of news perspective. While I appreciate you writing about big dams, I can neither condone the choice of author nor the length of the essay. It was an exercise in vanity and I am sorry to see my favourite news magazine fall a prey to it.

Anamika Lal Mumbai The killing of an activist 16121101jpg

After the spate of killings and counter-killings by various militant groups and the armed forces, the people of Assam were shocked to receive the news of the killing of the popular painter, sculptor and Communist Party of India (Marxist) activist, Pramod Talukdar, at Tamulpur in Nalbari district. On May 5, miscreants killed the artist apparently to stop his struggle for the betterment of the downtrodden, which he pursued through the medium of art.

On the night of May 5, unknown persons dragged him out of his house around 10.30 p.m. and attacked him with knives. The police failed to trace the person whom they suspect to be involved in the murder although he was reportedly hiding in a village hardly one kilometre from the police station soon after the incident.

A teacher by profession, Talukdar became famous as a painter in his 20s. He later taught himself sculpting. His work always carried some message to the people in simple and clear terms. He denounced thoughtless violence and fought for peace and amity amo ng the various communities of Assam through the medium of art.

Pramod Talukdar worked and created some images and landscapes in the Rural Gallery and Tribal Gallery of the Assam State Museum in Guwahati. He was also involved in work of the same nature in Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra, a cultural centre established in Guwahati under the Assam Accord and inaugurated by the President recently. He designed and built the main gate for the venue of the Assam Sahitya Sabha Conference held at Goreswar; the conference is the biggest annual of litterateurs in Assam and attr acts thousands of people from all walks of life. He also designed and built the main gate of the venue of the All Bodo Sahitya Sabha Conference held at Tamulpur.

Kandarpa Kalita Guwahati

The Pawar and the Glory

P. SAINATH politics

Sharad Pawar's revolt certainly redraws the pollscape. But it could be the saffron alliance that benefits more than his proposed new party.

THAT Sharad Pawar is likely to cause a severe setback to the Congress(I) in Maharashtra - and hence nationally - is not in doubt. (The largest chunk of Congress(I) members in the 12th Lok Sabha, constituting 33 members, was from Maharashtra.) Nor can it be disputed that, his opportunism aside, the party is paying the price for its own degenerate political culture. A more interesting question is: will the damage he inflicts translate into a large number of seats for his proposed new party? Or will it sim ply result in doubling the number of seats that a discredited Bharatiya Janata Partry-Shiv Sena alliance could otherwise have hoped for?

The record shows that Sharad Pawar has never once led the Congress(I) - or any other political formation - to a majority win in an Assembly election in Maharashtra. In 1978, Pawar broke the Government of Vasantdada Patil (which combined the two factions of the split, post-Emergency Congress). Walking out with a group of followers, he formed the Progressive Democratic Front (PDF) and became the State's youngest Chief Minister. This was obviously not an elected government but one of defectors.

In 1980, a resurgent Congress(I) took 186 out of 288 seats in the Assembly. The front led by Pawar - of which he was unquestioned leader - could not manage half of that. Pawar was out in the sticks. In the Lok Sabha polls, the Congress (Reddy), which he led to form the PDF, lost all the seats it contested but one. It retained only Satara, because of the stature of its candidate there - Y.B. Chavan. Even Pawar's home ground of Baramati was lost to the Congress(I). In 1984, the Congress(I) actually incre ased its Lok Sabha tally from 39 to 43 out of 48 seats.

Nonetheless, in 1985, virtually the entire Opposition rallied behind Pawar again, placing their faith in his vote-pulling ability. The situation seemed favourable for him. Maharashtra had witnessed the scandalous rule of A.R. Antulay, and also the comic interlude when Babasaheb Bhosale became Chief Minister (1982-83). Then came Vasantdada Patil, Shivajirao Patil Nilangekar and S.B. Chavan.

In a space of five years, the Congress(I) had had as many Chief Ministers. This had never happened in Maharashtra and was a pathetic performance by any standards. The Congress(I) deserved to be routed. Yet, the combined Opposition led by Pawar was crushe d. The Congress(I) took 162 of the 288 seats. Pawar's Congress (S), despite the help of a wide spectrum of Opposition parties, managed 54.

The "Maratha strongman" - as the press is fond of calling him - spent the next year negotiating a humiliating return to the Congress(I). This meant betraying the Opposition parties that had projected him as their top leader. He managed to do that without batting an eyelid. For the third time since 1980, the Opposition learnt of Pawar's kiss-of-death effect. Within the Congress(I), he was soon back to stoking factionalism. Two more Congress Chief Ministers lost their jobs. Then, in June 1988, Pawar was b ack as Chief Minister of Maharashtra.

Again, he was heading a government on whose platform he had not been elected - a platform that he had vehemently opposed in the very election, which had brought that government to power. In 1990, Pawar for the first time led the Congress(I) in an Assemb ly election. The result: a party that held well over 160 seats in the outgoing Assembly got its strength reduced to 141 - less than the halfway mark in a House of 288.

This was, however, increased to 177 the next year - by splitting the Shiv Sena. Of the 36 seats the Congress(I) added to its original tally, just one came in a by-election; the rest came through defections. Pawar had moved to the Centre and Sudhakarrao N aik, initially his friend, was Chief Minister. Naik later turned hostile to Pawar and paid the price for it. When Mumbai was rocked by riots in 1992-93, one of the frequent charges (heard often during the sittings of the Srikrishna Commission) was Defenc e Minister Pawar's reluctance to unshackle the Army in its operations here. That, out of a wish to demolish Naik. Mumbai city burned. Naik lost his job a few months later and Pawar made a return as Maharashtra Chief Minister, having been outclassed by hi s rivals at the Centre. (Naik is now back in the Pawar camp.)

Pawar then led the Congress(I) in 1993 to its biggest electoral defeat in Maharashtra, reducing its score to a pathetic 80 seats. The party's tally could have been marginally higher but Pawar worked hard to defeat Congress(I) candidates who did not belon g to his faction. The Shiv Sena-BJP alliance won 137 seats and formed the government. Pawar had paved the way for the hoisting of the saffron flag over Maharashtra.

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PAWAR seems set to play a similar role in 1999. Oddly enough, the Congress(I) did very well in the 1998 Lok Sabha polls - with the Shiv Sena-BJP combine in power, and with Pawar declaring that he was not returning to Maharashtra and would keep to politi cs at the Centre. The Congress(I) got 33 seats and its ally, the Republican Party of India (RPI), four. Before the present crisis in the Congress(I), the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance was in a desperate state. The staunchest supporters of the alliance were not sure that together the two parties could reach double digits in the next Lok Sabha elections. In Mumbai city, a rout of the alliance was on the cards.

All that has changed. Pawar's has revolt certainly redrawn the pollscape. It could be the saffron alliance that benefits more than his proposed new party, because the votes that his faction wins in each constituency may not bring its candidates victory b ut will end up undermining the Congress(I).

What accounts for Pawar's seeming aura of invincibility? The tremendous belief in his abilities? Despite his less-than-impressive poll record, the media saw him as a strong contender in the prime ministerial stakes of 1991. That too against the Narasimha Raos, Arjun Singhs and N.D. Tiwaris. How could this be? At the start of 1991, Pawar had never been a member of the Union Cabinet or the Congress(I) Parliamentary Board, which meant he could not seriously be in the running for prime ministership. (Exempt ion from that rule is granted only to the Nehru-Gandhi family.) Yet, significant sections of the press saw him as a front-runner.

Never mind his poll record, there has always been one constituency where Pawar has enjoyed a four-fifths majority: the press, particularly influential reporters and correspondents in Maharashtra. The number of them in his thrall adds up to quite a powerf ul lobby. The affinity is not necessarily ideological. There is a clutch of people in the press, from proprietors to hacks, whose purses have been with Pawar while their hearts have been with the Sangh Parivar. His chief ministerial years have always bee n good ones for journalists seeking flats from the government quota. And that is the least of it. He was and is the Beloved of the Masses of Hungry Newspaper Owners. Also Messiah of the Market. Of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, it could be argued that ne wspaper owners and industrialists feared him and needed him. Pawar, they adored.

Pawar's years as Chief Minister saw India's biggest land scams ever. Honest bureaucrats who opposed him were ruthlessly marginalised. Unsavoury dereservation deals went through. He was reputed to be the most resourceful Chief Minister in the country. The re were controversies over a plan to sell off Army cantonment land when Pawar was Defence Minister. Some people believe these cost him the post. But there were always powerful sections in the press to argue his case. His Teflon-coating was regularly poli shed with generous quantities of newsprint.

His ties with the Shiv Sena - as and when it suited him - too have not been seriously explored. Whenever he was sidelined in the Congress(I), Pawar played footsie with Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, aiding him in giving hell to the Congress(I) Chief Min ister of the day. There have been times when a gasping Shiv Sena found a new wind with his assistance. Significantly, Bal Thackeray announced the impending Congress(I) split days before the first newspaper here cottoned on to it.

As for the Congress(I), it has simply asked, begged and prayed for it. A party that almost never allows its MLAs in any State to elect their own leader, it has painted itself into a corner, where a member of The Family must be given unquestioning obedien ce and obeisance. One that promotes only sycophants, thus making the emergence of genuine mass leaders almost impossible. A political culture that has nourished and cherished defectors (like Pawar) and defections while undercutting those who actually hav e worked for it. And a political force with the worst economic agenda, one that launched a variant of the "structural adjustment" in Maharashtra long before it happened in the rest of the country.

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Pawar himself is very much a product of that culture. He had the option of raising issues openly and squarely within his party's forum. He chose less straightforward ways, not attending the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting he had himself demanded . Earlier he had proclaimed Sonia Gandhi as his leader and future Prime Minister. Finally, of the many grounds on which he could oppose her, he chose the least honest one. In contrast, a Rajesh Pilot who has all along demanded elections to the party's to p posts and a more democratic internal structure actually comes out better.

If Pawar now approaches the remnants of the United Front or Third Force, he will have them in a bind. That he is neither with the Congress(I) nor - explicitly - with the Shiv Sena-BJP combine makes it difficult for them to keep him out of their combine. So they could have him in their front during the polls. The problem is: where will he be after the polls?

Why is this important? There has long been a 20 to 25 per cent vote in Maharashtra that favours neither the Congress(I) nor the saffronites. It has been fragmented over the years, with Janata Dal leaders concentrating their fire on rival groups within th eir own party, with the Left in decline, and with the RPI and its nine factions unable to get their act together.

This is the space Pawar now seeks to occupy, besides taking a chunk of the Congress(I) vote with him. Add to this the public anger against the Shiv Sena-BJP Government. In theory, a winning combination could indeed be built around this. The question is w hether Pawar can do it in this election and whether Maharashtra is now ready for the type of formation it rejected in earlier polls. It also depends on what part of the Congress(I) vote he can take with him. It would need to be a very high share of that party's total for him to convert it into seats.

Immediately, the Shiv Sena-BJP combine's position in the six Lok Sabha seats in Mumbai appears to have improved. Pawar is likely to ally with the Samajwadi Party and perhaps even the Athavale group of the RPI. The effect of this could be to split Muslim and Dalit votes, which would otherwise uniformly go against the Shiv Sena-BJP front. Consequently, the latter, which was facing decimation, is now a serious contender in far more seats than it was just weeks ago. The Congress(I) which was, with its allie s, seeking upwards of 35 seats, will suffer correspondingly, losing several seats both to the saffron crowd and to Pawar. However, with alliances yet to be struck, the swings and the seats that will be won cannot be predicted in more specific terms.

If Pawar's new party does not make the kind of impact he hopes for, he is in trouble. If elections to the Maharashtra Assembly are held separately -- as Thackeray demands - he could be in bigger trouble if his party does not emerge the frontrunner in the Lok Sabha elections. Keeping his support base intact then would be a problem. So September could bring the elections that make or break Sharad Pawar.

"My own people had gone astray..."

politics

This is the text of Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi's address at the special AICC(I) session on May 25.

SOME days ago I gave in my resignation to the Congress Working Committee. That day, my mind was weighed down very heavily. After rejecting the possibility for all of seven years, I entered politics in 1998. All of you know very well what the situation wa s like then. The Congress party was breaking up when it was absolutely necessary to confront the communal forces. There was the danger that the legacy of all the Congress' great leaders, as also the sacrifices of Indiraji and Rajivji, would go in vain. T his was a situation I could not tolerate.

Now, about a year later, I have arrived at a moment of reckoning. The very same people who came before me a year back pleading that I save the Congress, the very same people today are seeking to create a climate of suspicion about my patriotism. The very same people are today seeking to plant seeds of doubt about me in the minds my compatriots - and they are going hand-in-hand with the very same party that I entered politics to confront.

I was deeply distressed that day and began to think that this struggle was mine alone. I began to sense that my own people had gone astray in the greed for position and authority. They neither understand me nor the sources of my inspiration. Though we fa ce great challenges, these people in their pettiness are hatching conspiracies of rebellion against one another. I was disillusioned at seeing this and hence chose the path of resignation.

If yet I stand before you today, the reason is only one. I have thought about a variety of matters over the last nine days. Party activists have come to me from various corners of the nation. I have recognised who my true friends are. You have awakened h ope in my mind yet again, you have given me the reassurance without which it would have been futile for me to remain president of the party. You have given me your trust, your affection and your spirit of comradeship. I will not disappoint you. Whatever has beset us over the last few days - me, you and our party - this should be a signal for all of us to rebuild and reconstruct the party.

Our goal is not merely to win the elections. Triumphs and defeats are a part of life. But victory will be his who recognises the truth and is prepared to live and die by his principles. I want the Congress to be a party that is prepared for this. Whoever wants to come with me should come with all his heart and soul. Whoever has the slightest shadow of doubt in his mind can choose his own path.

We fear none, we suffer no anxieties. We do not crave authority. We are not the type that will pursue the lure of office. We want, rather, to serve the nation and complete the unfinished tasks of our predecessors and fulfil their dreams. Nobody can sun der us from this basic goal.

What does it mean when people question my patriotism? India adopted me as her own 31 years ago, when I arrived here as Indiraji's daughter-in-law. This country has not merely borne witness to my life, it is part of every moment of my existence. I became a bride here and a mother. And I became a widow here, in front of your very eyes. Indiraji, the greatest daughter of this nation, drew her last breath in my arms. Every drop of my blood today tells me that this is my motherland. My motherland.

I do not intend to respond to those who question my Indianness, since the people of this country will give them a fitting response. As far as the Prime Minister's post is concerned, the decision will be taken - as always - when the time comes by the Cong ress Parliamentary Party.

My friends, it will be the endeavour of our adversaries in the coming days to mislead the people on the basis of spurious issues.

They would like very much to suppress the record of 13 months of bad policies and misdeeds. But we will not let that happen. They and their friends have made minorities a target. Now, are they going to put people through the test of loyalty to the countr y?

In recent times, the politics of the country has changed a great deal. It is hence the greatest challenge for the Congress that it should appreciate its true identity. Ours is the only party today which can represent every Indian. This is our greatest st rength.

The Congress has always made the people's struggles its own. We have always been active in the struggle for democracy, social harmony and justice for all. Our party's history is suffused with this struggle. Even today, our struggle is to keep alive these principles. Even today, our countrymen are looking towards us with eyes full of hope - hope for a better life, hope for a better world, hope that we will brighten the country's future. The people look towards us for precisely the reason that, in the pas t, only we have been able to run stable and successful governments.

I want all of you to take a vow today that you will go to every corner of the country and bring these issues to the attention of our countrymen. We have to advance further in the spirit of unity that you have all displayed in the last few days.

(This first part of Sonia Gandhi's address to the AICC(I) was in Hindi. It has been translated into English by Frontline.)

Supplementary Observations in English

I stand before you today as a proud Congressperson, doubly resolved to lead the fight for our beloved country. No longer shall we tolerate the negative forces which seek to target the dignity of a woman through calumny and falsehood, which attempt to rul e by sowing suspicion, by dividing brother from brother, by indulging in the partisan politics of hate.

I have thought deeply about the problems that confront our great country and the issues that stir the minds of the vast majority of our people. I recall the immense contribution of the Congress party under the leadership of Gandhiji to the winning of fre edom, of the men and women from all walks of life who without regard to the cost made sacrifices for our country.

I remember the clarity of purpose of members of my own family who single-mindedly devoted themselves to the service of the nation. Jawaharlal Nehru, the builder of modern India, gave us a vision of our immense capabilities and charted the course for us t o follow. Indira Gandhi never wavered in her purpose to break the stranglehold of poverty and to make us a self-sufficient and proud people. My husband Rajiv Gandhi, who forsook his personal inclination to work in the public domain, focussed the energies of our people with a sense of mission towards achieving greatness in the 21st century.

Such has been the tradition to which I, and all of us in the Congress family, belong.

Our commitment from the beginning has been to help the poorest of the poor, to relive the pain of the tormented in communal strife, to lift the weakest and less abled, to give voice to the underprivileged, the oppressed, the untended. This is still our p rimary concern. We believe that the Indian woman, so long unable by circumstance to contribute fully in our national life, should in the new century find her rightful place as equal partner in every sphere of human endeavour. I particularly look to my yo ung compatriots, our new generation of Indians whose expectations and ambitions encompass the world. I assure them of our full support as they become the cutting edge of India in the new millennium.

As we go forward from here today, I am conscious that the nation's and the world's eyes are upon us. We are the world's largest democratic party, which seeks to play a decisive part in the future fortunes of the world's largest democracy. Our task is gre at and this greatness shall invest our every thought and effort, abjuring the trivial and the irrelevant. We shall seek a mandate from our people for this great cause, for an India that is confident and capable, for a government that is responsible and r esponsive to the needs of the people.

Ours is not a battle merely for votes for public office, as they like to portray it. It is certainly not a referendum on personalities, to which they wish to confine it. It is a battle for the India of our dreams, for the future of our children and our c hildren's children. I invite every Congressperson here, and through you, every Congress worker and supporter in India and abroad to join us in this historic battle. This is a battle for the minds of all right-thinking Indians, by which I mean all Indians to rise above regionalism and casteism, to rise above gender and economic disparities, to rise above the divisive squabbles of petty politics, to rise above the destructive mindset of apathy and despair. To all my fellow-Indians, I call out to join us b uilding a new, strong, united and resurgent India.

Jai Hind.

Sonia and the dynastic principle

politics
SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN

Pursuit of power is the Congressman's natural inclination and fear of freedom his greatest limitation. The dynastic principle frees him from the need to deliberate over issues of ideology and leadership. He clings to the certainties inherent in the doctr ine with great ardour, prepared to go to great lengths in the attendant requirement that the critical faculties be suspended in accepting the presumptive right of the Gandhi dynasty to rule the country.

Rarely has a leader established or maintained a durable political niche on the explicit premise that he or she would be exempt from all public interrogation. Sonia Gandhi's campaign style, as it was evolved in the 1998 general elections, made precisely s uch an affirmation. There was a marked preference for a declamatory approach and little interaction with either the electorate or the media. It was a campaign methodology that was, in the words of critics, akin to a "hit and run" strategy. Sonia's campai gn speeches sought to efface public memory on some of the more traumatic events of the recent past, in which the Congress(I) under the leadership of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi bore direct culpability. And the strategy was tailored in most instances, to the nature of the audience. Thus a crowd in Delhi comprising a large number of Punjabis was told of Rajiv's deep sense of remorse over Operation Bluestar and the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984, an audience in Hyderabad was treated to a narration of Rajiv's resolve to stand in the way of the marauding hordes, rather than allow any harm to the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, and a gathering in Bangalore bore witness to a virtual cry from the heart over the supposed campaign of vilification that her family had suffered ove r the Bofors scandal.

Yet for all that, Sonia did manage a successful holding operation for the Congress(I). Top and middle-ranking party leaders were voting with their feet against the leadership of Sitaram Kesri, a man who had ironically been voted in as Congress president just months earlier, in the party's first formal elections in close to half a century. Sonia managed to stop the exodus and by adopting a non-intrusive style in inner party affairs, to cement the brittle solidarity of the Congress' faction leaders.

The Congress(I) did not significantly improve its position in 1998. But the decimation of the Third Front provided it with a new salience, setting the stage for the transformation of Sonia the reluctant campaigner into an assertive party leader. Kesri wa s unceremoniously ousted to formally make way for her to take over the party leadership. And the Congress constitution was amended to enable her, a member of neither House of Parliament, to be elected leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party.

These moves must have seemed rather unsavoury to any individual who valued internal democracy in a party. In retrospect, it is clear that they did engender a degree of resentment, which was only suppressed on account of the compulsions of the moment. The November 1998 Assembly elections in the northern region underlined Sonia's status as undisputed leader, although it was generally recognised that the twin perils the BJP faced as the incumbent party in government at the Centre and in the States played a major role in the Congress' sweeping victories.

Centralisation of power in an individual entails multiple hazards, all of which the Congress is familiar with. These become especially acute when the leader is exempt from scrutiny both within party councils and the larger political realm. In certain of her decisions since assuming undisputed sway, Sonia showed a tendency to adopt a collegial and consultative process of decision-making. The decision to oppose the Vajpayee government's imposition of President's rule in Bihar was one such instance. But co mplex situations, such as the collapse of the Vajpayee government and its aftermath, clearly brought out a glaring inability to deal with political ambiguities. Further, there was a tendency to fall back upon the advice of a narrow coterie and to adopt a style of imperial hauteur that prospective allies in the search for an alternative regime found deeply offensive.

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Indira and Rajiv Gandhi enshrined the dynastic principle in the Congress(I) on the specific understanding that no alternative centres of power would be tolerated. Indeed, the separation of ministerial and organisational responsibilities was the rule in t he Congress till 1977, when Indira Gandhi split the party one more time, rather than be held accountable for the Emergency and the electoral debacle that followed. By leading a party greatly diminished in terms of internal democracy back to power in 1980 , Indira Gandhi ensured the demise of accountability as a guiding principle within the Congress(I). Any leader who could attract votes would be exempt from internal scrutiny and assessment.

Rajiv Gandhi put his own seal on the principle of dynastic and non-accountable leadership by leading the Congress(I) to an unprecedented 400-seat majority in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections. Yet he proved an extremely insecure leader, intent of neutralising any prospect of an alternative power centre. Chief Ministers in the States and party leaders at the second and third rung were changed around on sheer whim, as the Leader became increasingly dependent on a coterie with little exposure to political reali ties.

As the Congress(I) drifted far afield of its traditional ideological moorings under Rajiv, it was wilfully quashing all possibilities of internal correctives. And since no individual leader in any region was allowed to consolidate his position, the party found that its traditional processes of political mobilisation were failing. But for his tragic assassination in 1991, Rajiv Gandhi would surely have earned for himself the dubious distinction of being the first Congress president to lead the party to t wo successive electoral defeats. The party's traditional system of faction management, of attracting and retaining the allegiances of social classes that would form relatively stable coalitions at the local level, was in shambles; and its commitment to t he traditional values of the freedom struggle and Jawaharlal Nehru's early efforts at development, deeply eroded.

A party that substitutes principles with a personality cult may enthuse the electorate in a contingent situation, marked for instance by a massive upwelling of anti-incumbency sentiment. But it affords few assurance that it will be able to exercise power credibly. Indira Gandhi was able, although with growing infirmity in her later years, to retain her commitment to a basic set of political values. But then she was a political personality with an interesting, if deeply flawed, political vision. Rajiv Ga ndhi, in contrast, had little of this breadth of vision. He began the trivialisation of the Congress(I) and as his natural legatee it now seems Sonia's mandate to complete the job.

'The question was decided by the Constituent Assembly'

other

Congress(I) Working Committee (CWC) member Arjun Singh is considered close to Sonia Gandhi and is held partly responsible for the recent crisis in the party. According to some party insiders, Sharad Pawar, P.A. Sangma and several other leaders wit h a mass base were unhappy that Arjun Singh wielded considerable influence in the affairs of the party without having any significant mass base or administrative skills. Excerpts from an interview Arjun Singh gave Venkitesh Ramakrishnan:

The Congress(I)'s failure to form an alternative government immediately after the fall of the Vajpayee government and the recent revolt by senior party leaders have changed the perception that the party is on a strong wicket and is ready to face the L ok Sabha elections. What is your assessment of the developing political situation?

The failure to form an alternative government was by itself not a factor that could cause damage to the party's prospects. We had all along maintained that we would not bring down the government but that it would fall under the weight of its own contradi ctions. That is what happened when the AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) withdrew support to the Vajpayee Ministry. As the main Opposition party, it was our duty to vote against the government. We were of the view that all those who unite d to bring down the government would be equally ready and responsible to form an alternative. But leaders such as Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav, who were most vociferous in wanting to bring down the government, did a volte-face. That does not show us in a bad light.

As for the developments in the Congress(I), we are sad about it. But it has in a way given the rank and file an opportunity to demonstrate its solidarity with the party president. Although it could have been debilitating, it turned out to be a source of great strength for the party and its leader. The Congress is not interested in leading a personal attack against anybody. On the other hand, the BJP seems to be interested only in targeting Sonia Gandhi's nationality. Sonia Gandhi, in her recent speech t o the AICC, made it clear that she would not respond to this so-called nationality question but would leave it to the people.

But the issue of foreign origin is what has caused the revolt in the Congress(I).

The question of nationality was decided by the Constituent Assembly in 1949-50. The people who decided it were those who fought against foreign rule and who were in no way sympathetic to any foreign country. But in their wisdom and in the overall context of rationality and liberal values, they allowed a person (foreign national) to acquire citizenship. That situation has not changed. Those who are trying to make an issue out of it should realise that the most patriotic segment of society has settled the issue of nationality. So, whatever is entailed in the Constitution and whatever powers it confers on an individual is sacrosanct.

The argument against the projection of Sonia Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate is not legal but is said to be based on self-respect.

What do they mean by self-respect? The members of the Constituent Assembly had no self-respect? Can you accuse Sardar Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Acharya Narendra Dev and Jawaharlal Nehru of having no self-respect?

What do you think is the motive behind the campaign?

It is personal ambition born out of the realisation that Sonia Gandhi's political status would cause a setback to their ambition. She was good for campaigning in the parliamentary and Assembly elections to fetch votes. But not good enough for prime minis tership?

How do you react to the accusation that some leaders left the party on account of the undue importance given to leaders like you, who have neither a mass base nor organisational skills?

I have been in politics since 1957 and have fought more elections than Pawar. But if winning an election is the only way to prove your commitment, many leaders get elected for other reasons too. What is a mass base? If you have worked for the welfare of the poor, the handicapped, the farmers... that is mass base. I can proudly say that in all the years I have been in and out of office I have done what is humanly possible to further the cause of the poor and the downtrodden. As for competing with Pawar, on what basis should I compete? In his capacity to betray the people? He has betrayed every single mentor of his - Yashwantrao Chavan, Vasantrao Patil, Rajiv Gandhi and now Sonia Gandhi. I cannot compete with him on this.

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The other argument offered is Sonia Gandhi's lack of experience.

For 30 years she has been in a family that was at the helm of affairs for 26 years. She has not held any office. But to say that she has no experience whatsoever will be begging the question.

How does the Congress(I) plan to counter the present situation?

Personally, I do not think that there is any setback. The elections will prove that. The Congress will, through the issues that it will articulate and through its leader's charisma, get a positive response in the people's court.

The Congress(I) has projected a prime ministerial candidate almost always when it fought general elections. In this context, what is the relevance of Sonia Gandhi's statement that the Congress(I) Parliamentary Party will choose the prime ministerial c andidate?

Soniaji has clearly stated that the MPs will elect the prime ministerial candidate. Just because she is a candidate, it does not mean that she is an aspirant.

How would you assess the organisational situation after the expulsion of the three leaders?

There could be some problems in Maharashtra. They would be peripheral. The elections will prove that nothing has changed the Congress(I)'s electoral prospects.

Emerging equations

Although formal alliances are yet to take shape, the recent developments within the Congress(I) and the responses of other parties to these point to a broad convergence of political interests.

ELECTIONS being more than three months in the future, the shape of the alliances that will compete for voter allegiance is already beginning to emerge. The objective points of convergence in political interests between the various parties have been evide nt, though to convert these into formal alliances would need a great deal more of groundwork.

The day the rebellious trio of former Congressmen - Sharad Pawar, P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar - launched their new party under the quite pointedly chosen name of Nationalist Congress, two major regional parties were conducting important strategy session s. In Hyderabad, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) under Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, began its grandly titled general conference or "Mahanadu". And in Delhi, Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party (S.P.) wound up a meeting of its nation al executive with an affirmation of the principles that would guide it in the forthcoming elections.

These were three events that not merely coincided, but also pointed to a broad area of convergence in political interests. Pawar's group has chosen the "nationalist" badge of identity to differentiate itself from the parent organisation, which is today l ed by Rajiv Gandhi's Italian-born widow. The TDP Mahanadu has also staked out a clear position on this question, unanimously resolving that individuals of foreign origin should be prohibited from holding office as President, Vice-President and Prime Mini ster. The S.P. has not quite gone so far, although it did indicate through a reaffirmation of its belief that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress(I) are merely "two sides of the same coin" that it shared the broad attitude that could serve as a basis for engagement with the Pawar group and the TDP.

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It is a situation that is riddled with anomalies. The S.P. and Laloo Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), for instance, share a close association under the identity of the Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha (RLM). This intimacy had begun to fray a bit aft er the BJP-led government collapsed in April and the S.P. firmly set its face against the idea of supporting a minority government led by the Congress(I). But Mulayam Singh today has chosen to provide a waiver of his anti-Congress world-view to accommoda te Laloo Prasad's compulsions in Bihar. It was known even when the RLM was formed that Laloo Prasad might be entering into an alliance with the Congress(I) in Bihar, he said. This did not represent a serious irritant, since Laloo Prasad would not do anyt hing to disrupt the stability of his alliance with the S.P. As for himself, said Mulayam Singh, he would consider an alliance with the Pawar group if he is convinced of its secular credentials.

Mutually conflicting alliances are, of course, nothing new for Mulayam Singh. He fought the last election in league with the Congress(I) in Maharashtra and against it in Uttar Pradesh. It was a smart political strategy, born out of a pragmatic understand ing with Pawar, and it yielded dividends for both. But he seems clearly unhappy at the prospect of any other party undertaking contingent and pragmatic alliances with the Congress(I), in accordance with the unique features of each State.

Mulayam Singh's greatest worry today is that his longstanding alliance with the Left, and principally with the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is rapidly deteriorating. The signs of strain were evident during the Central Government crisis of April, w ith CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet repeatedly upbraiding the S.P. leader for reneging on assurances that he would be amenable to supporting a Congress(I)-led government. The differences have become more intense following the Pawar rebel lion. The S.P. clearly saw various possibilities opening up in the event but the CPI(M) remained lukewarm, when not hostile.

Shortly after the Congress(I) rebels were expelled, the Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) made evident its low opinion of the points they had raised. "Every citizen irrespective of origin," it said, "has equal rights under the Constitution." To raise the doctri ne of differential rights, it suggested, would only play into the hands of the BJP, which had taken a stance on the issue that was "motivated by chauvinism with a communal tinge."

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The CPI(M) Polit Bureau further made it clear that it would view every party and its leadership "not on the basis of the place of birth or personal characteristics of individual leaders," but "by the policies they pursue." And in this context, "the confl ict which arose in the Congress(I) leadership" did not "represent any policy differences." Rather, it was motivated merely by "factionalism and political ambition."

General secretary Surjeet was more forthcoming about what he thought about the established leadership of the Congress(I). This was evident from his reaction to the All-India Congress Committee session, convened specifically to hear Sonia Gandhi's impassi oned exercise in hand-wringing emotion and reaffirm faith in her leadership. Sonia, said Surjeet, had disarmed her critics and given them a "fitting response." In the light of what she had said, there was, he concluded, no further need to consider the po ints that the Congress(I) rebels had raised.

Surjeet followed up quickly on the implications of the new line of political association in order to defeat the BJP and its allies. In Chennai a few days later, after the Tamil Nadu State Committee of the CPI(M) had unanimously endorsed the new line of c onsolidating all the "secular and democratic forces," including the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), to "defeat the BJP-DMK combine," Surjeet conferred with AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha. He later expressed himself in favour of a n arrangement with the AIADMK on the grounds that every secular force had a role in the struggle against the BJP. The CPI(M) in Tamil Nadu will be one among a constellation of new political forces, some of which were till recently bitter adversaries. The Congress(I), which was marginalised during the 1996 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections and also during the 1998 Lok Sabha elections in the State, will like to bring back G.K. Moopanar's breakaway party, the Tamil Maanila Congress. But the TMC has serious reservations about any alliance that Jayalalitha will be associated with. The CPI(M) and the TMC were, of course, allies in the United Front, but that was in the context of the anchorage that the DMK provided in the State's political landscape. M. Karuna nidhi's DMK, which was first out of the starting blocks to announce its intention to make common cause with the BJP on the reasoning that "corruption" was a bigger issue than "communalism," is now firmly in the BJP camp.

Tamil Nadu is the State where the new alignments will face their thorniest problems of reconciling a multitude of personal animosities and political rivalries. It is also the arena where the CPI(M)'s new outlook on political associations will face a dema nding test.

Within the broader Left alliance, a certain degree of dissent is already apparent over the tactical line that the CPI(M) has been developing. The CPI has its own inclinations on issues such as the stance towards the Pawar group and towards the Congress(I ) in particular States like Andhra Pradesh. The Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc, similarly, have stuck to the policy line articulated in April that they will have nothing to do with the Congress(I), either in an electoral contest or in the future Lok Sabha.

Aside from the fissures within its ranks, a problem for the Left lies in the growing public perception that it is opting for a role supportive of and subordinate to the Congress(I) in national politics. The specific political identity of the Left in trad itional bastions like West Bengal and Kerala has been forged in fighting opposition to the Congress(I). If it is seen as an ally of the Congress(I) in national politics, its autonomous claims to voter loyalty in national elections will be in serious ques tion. As a credible and leading vehicle of Third Front politics in the last two general elections, the Left managed to hold its ground in both West Bengal and Kerala. What will be the impact of the effects of the new line on political association on its electoral performance in these strongholds? It was an awareness of these realities that seemingly impelled E.K. Nayanar, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and Kerala Chief Minister, to state that his party would not have serious objections to the Pawar group if it were to clearly articulate an economic policy platform distinct from that of the Congress(I). With the party Polit Bureau scheduled to meet in the middle of June, it is evident that the last word has not yet been said about the range and scope of all iances and adjustments that will be forged.

Mamata Banerji's Trinamul Congress seemed for a while to be a prospective partner for the Pawar faction. This would obviously have tied the hands of the Left as far as association with the rebel Congressmen is concerned. But in recent days, the realisati on seems to have dawned on Mamata that it would be imprudent to disrupt the alliance with the BJP for the uncertain and unproven benefits of the Nationalist Congress.

Another likely key player, the Bahujan Samaj Party, is giving few indications of its intentions. It has a widespread network of voter loyalty in both Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, though an established capacity to win seats only in the latter. The Co ngress(I), which has been reduced to a rather parlous state in Uttar Pradesh, is keen to revive the alliance with the BSP, which provided it with a short-lived political stimulus in the 1996 Assembly elections. But the BSP is giving nothing away, at leas t at this stage, and seems more intent on retaining its identity as a player who can exercise immense influence at the margins.

Except for Kerala, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, the Congress(I) is inclined to go it alone in all States. In Kerala of course, it is part of a long-established coalition and in Bihar and Tamil Nadu, alliance with Laloo Prasad and Jayalalitha is v iewed as an imperative of political survival. But if it fails to work out a viable strategy for Uttar Pradesh, its gains in the next general elections could prove inadequate, especially considering the damage more or less guaranteed by Sharad Pawar's gro uping in Maharashtra. It would then have to choose between lofty isolation and political associations premised upon a broad notion of equality. Whether the leadership of the Congress(I) today has the vision to make the appropriate choice still remains un clear.

Fronts and challenges

EVEN as the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) firmed up a new pro-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) front in Tamil Nadu, roping in the erstwhile allies of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) - the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress (TRC) - there were signs of a formidable challenge to it emerging from a broad-based front of secular and democratic parties. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communis t Party of India (CPI) took the initiative to bring the secular parties together.

The fall of the BJP-led Government in April - when the AIADMK, a constituent of the coalition, turned against the Government and the DMK, then in the Opposition, supported it - saw the collapse of the fronts led by these two parties, necessitating the fo rmation of new alignments for the coming Lok Sabha elections.

The general secretary of the CPI (M), Harkishan Singh Surjeet, who was in Chennai on May 27 and 28, held separate discussions with Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) president G.K. Moopanar and AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha. Surjeet's visit was to guide the State secretariat of his party in evolving its poll strategy. The CPI's general secretary A.B. Bardhan and national secretary D. Raja were also in Chennai on May 26 to participate in the deliberations of the State executive of the party. According t o Surjeet, "Anybody who can contribute to the defeat of the BJP will have a role to play and should contribute." He described the AIADMK as a secular party "as its mass base is secular". Bardhan said that the CPI considered the AIADMK a secular party bec ause it had done well to get out of the BJP's orbit. As for charges of corruption against the AIADMK leadership, he argued that even in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections this was not an issue. Although it was talked about it did not cut much ice, he said.

Thus, the way has been virtually cleared for the State units of the CPI and the CPI(M) to go in for an alliance with the AIADMK. According to CPI State secretary R. Nallakannu, the executive authorised the State secretariat to hold talks with the CPI(M), the TMC, the Janata Dal and other anti-BJP and democratic parties to form a broad-based front in order to take on the BJP-DMK combine. CPI(M) State secretariat member G. Ramakrishnan said that his party's "central task" was to defeat the communalism of the BJP. Describing the elections as "a fight between communalism and secularism", he said: "Any other issue is secondary."

Both the CPI and the CPI(M) were highly critical of the DMK. The CPI(M) State committee, which also met in Chennai on May 28 under Ramakrishnan's presidentship, denounced the DMK for "totally reversing its stand against communalism and taking the worst o pportunistic stand by voting in support of the BJP-led Government and also in aligning with the BJP front." The State committee resolution added, "The stand of the DMK goes against its preaching of self-respect and the principles of Periyar (E.V. Ramaswa my, the founder of the Dravidian movement) and Anna (DMK founder C.N. Annadurai) and is harmful to secular, democratic movement." In Surjeet's view, the mass base of both the DMK and the AIADMK is secular but the DMK has suddenly jumped onto the BJP band wagon without any reason.

What is holding up the finalisation of an anti-BJP front is the Congress(I)'s delay in deciding on an alliance with the AIADMK. Besides, another secular party with a substantial following in the State, the TMC, has reservations about joining hands with t he "corrupt" AIADMK. Moopanar has told Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi that his party will have nothing to do with the Congress(I) if it aligns with the AIADMK. TMC general secretary Peter Alphonse said, "We will support neither communalism nor corrup tion. We will work out our strategy accordingly."

Sources in the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee(I) indicated that the party was keen to ally with the AIADMK and it hoped to persuade the TMC to have "seat adjustments" with the AIADMK as part of a broad front. The Left parties are also mounting pressure on the TMC to give up its rigid anti-AIADMK stand.

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The CPI(M) and the CPI have ruled out the formation of a third front in Tamil Nadu as envisaged by the TMC. The TMC would like this front to comprise the TMC, the CPI(M), the CPI, Puthiya Thamilagam and other secular parties, but not the AIADMK. In the L eft parties' assessment, a three-way fight, isolating Jayalalitha, would be only to the advantage of the DMK-BJP combine.

Jayalalitha, for her part, had discussions with a number of parties that are opposed to the BJP, such as the Janata Dal, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party. She also held talks with the leaders of a breakaway group of the PMK.

Earlier, the Congress(I) had deputed Sharad Pawar to Chennai for "preliminary" discussions with Jayalalitha on a possible alliance with the AIADMK. But the Congress(I) leader's subsequent revolt against party president Sonia Gandhi and the inner-party cr isis that followed hampered further moves in this direction.

Three minority organisations have also pledged their support to the emerging anti-BJP front: the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and the Indian National League (INL), both political parties, and the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK), a non-pol itical organisation. The IUML has declared its support to the AIADMK; M.A. Latheef, the general secretary of the INL, a breakaway group of the IUML and an ally of the DMK until recently, has expressed its readiness to join the AIADMK-led front. TMMK pres ident M.K. Jawahirullah has said that his organisation will support a Sonia Gandhi-led front.

Although Puthiya Thamilagam, which has a Dalit mass base, is undecided, its president, Dr. K. Krishnasamy, has said his party will oppose any front of which the BJP is a constituent.

AT the other end of the spectrum, DMK president and Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi took further steps to firm up his party's alliance with the BJP and other former allies of the AIADMK. An interesting sidelight of these moves was a meeting between Karunan idhi and his arch rival for the last six years, MDMK general secretary Vaiko, at the former's residence on May 19. Vaiko, who was a popular leader of the DMK and was perceived to be close to Karunanidhi, formed the MDMK in early 1994 a few months after h is expulsion from the DMK. Describing the meeting as "significant and cordial", Vaiko said it was "like an estranged son visiting his father". The two leaders had "preliminary" discussions on the alliance and agreed to set up committees to discuss the mo dalities of seat-sharing. The PMK's founder leader S. Ramadoss did not envisage any problem in seat-sharing with the DMK.

Karunanidhi reiterated the view that Jayalalitha's corruption was more dangerous than communalism and said that the DMK's support to the BJP was "a logical continuation of its strategy to fight corruption". MDMK spokesman K.S. Radhakrishnan wondered how the Left parties could describe the AIADMK as a secular party since, he said, Jayalalitha supported the kar seva in Ayodhya when she was Chief Minister and allowed bricks to be sent for that purpose.

WAR IN KARGIL

cover-story

The infiltration by well-armed Pakistani irregulars and troops across the Line of Control and their entrenchment in the Kargil sector have created a war-like situation in Kashmir.

ON May 5, as summer set in on the Kargil heights, the 121 Brigade sent out its first reconnaissance patrol into the Kaksar area. The patrol's job was essentially to see whether the snow had retreated enough to allow troops to reoccupy their high-altitude summer positions along the Line of Control. Lieutenant V. Kalia and five soldiers went out into the mountains, never to return. Radio Skardu in Pakistan reported that Kalia was captured, but there has been no word of him since. Neither have the bodies o f the other members of the patrol been sighted. Days later, a second patrol made up of a Lieutenant and eight soldiers vanished in the Batalik area. It later transpired that the officer and one soldier died bravely covering the retreat of the other six s oldiers.

It was to take the best part of a fortnight for the Indian Army to realise just how serious the situation was. Fresh sightings of tents and makeshift rock and ice bunkers kept coming in, until it became clear that Pakistani irregulars and troops were occ upying upwards of 70 positions on heights along the National Highway. Two helicopters engaged in low-altitude surveillance were hit by ground fire on May 14, while a third narrowly escaped damage. Reports emerged of Pakistan having moved units of a briga de up the Mian Langpa gully to supply positions on the Indian side of the Line of Control in Chorbat-La and Turtok. Similar supply routes were active into the Muskoh Valley, which leads into the Kashmir Valley.

An array of Indian artillery guns in the Kargil sector prepares to pound positions held by Pakistani infiltrators.

Defence Minister George Fernandes, for one, was unperturbed by these developments. In an early statement, he assured Indian citizens that the Pakistani occupation would be vacated within 48 hours, an assertion that can only be described as monumentally o btuse. 15 Corps Commander Lieutenant General Kishan Pal, a highly regarded soldier, was less blase. Nonetheless, he described the occupied areas as "unheld", arguing that the heights occupied by the Pakistani irregulars and troops were of little strategi c importance. "If I don't take notice of them," he told Frontline, "it will make no difference. If they come off the heights in the summer, they will be slaughtered. And if they don't leave them in the winter, they will freeze to death."

This institutional mentality generated disorganised scrambles to attack the Pakistan-held positions, leading to heavy casualties. Irregulars and troops on the heights picked off Indian soldiers as they pushed their way up the mountains to cut off Pakista ni resupply routes, hoping to starve the positions of ammunition and food. Then, Pakistani irregulars received artillery support from across the border. By the third week of May, massive artillery duels had broken out along the length of the Line of Cont rol in the Kargil area. Troop morale fell, as soldiers felt they were being pushed up the mountains without the existence of a broader paradigm of how the Indian Army would inflict corresponding damage on Pakistan.

In Hunzi Ghund in Pakistani territory, Pakistani soldiers gather pieces of an Indian MiG-27 jet fighter.

It was only on May 25 that the high-powered Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) met for the first time, following desperate appeals by a team of Jammu and Kashmir officials led by Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah. The visit followed hard intelligence that a group of at least 70 insurgents had used the Muskoh Valley route to cross into Sonamarg, and from there to Doda. By then it was also clear that conventional infantry tactics had proved inadequate to evacuate the threat from Pakistan. While troops had, displaying exceptional valour, succeeded in pushing their way up mountain ridges, resupply lines remained open in several areas. Three brigades of additional troops had been moved in by then, and plans to send in a reserve division were in place, but it was clear that unacclimatised troops moving up the mountainside would suffer unacceptable losses. The decision to use air power seems to have been made at this first meeting of the CCS.

THE war in Kargil, despite the use of combat aircraft, seems set to be a long one. Pakistani irregulars and troops have been vacated from lower heights in several areas, but resupply lines elsewhere remain open. And although the Indian Army has occupied several ridge-lines in the Drass, Kaksar and Batalik areas, the Muskoh Valley, Turtok and Chorbat-La remain problematic. Officials estimate that some 300 irregulars and troops have been killed, but there has been no physical verification of these claims so far. The Indian Army initially believed that some 350 men held positions on the Indian side of the Line of Control, but those figures have been revised upwards on more than one occasion. And, as the recovery of the identification papers of Abdul Ayub of the Fourth Northern Light Infantry brigade illustrates, the Pakistan Army continues to be directly committed in Kargil.

What shape events will take from here is unclear. There is a need for introspection on why Kargil snowballed into a grave embarrassment for India in the first place. "The real problem will come once we get the Pakistani forces out," said one Army officer . "We're now going to have to hold these heights through the winter. It will be like a second Siachen."

An Indian Army helicopter on a reconnaissance mission in the Drass sector.

Contrary to the Defence Ministry's claims, there is evidence of a serious intelligence failure leading to the Kargil conflict. And in a larger sense, Kargil appears to be just one event set off by the forces unleashed after last year's nuclear tests at P okhran, with more to come in the not-too-distant future.

AZHAR SHAFI MIR, a Hizb-ul-Mujahideen operative, was arrested by Border Security Force (BSF) troopers in the Poonch area on December 20, 1998. What he told his BSF interrogators was enough to arouse an unusual interest in both the Intelligence Bureau (I. B.) and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Mir said that he had tired of a long career as a Hizb-ul-Mujahideen foot soldier and had set up shop as an auto-rickshaw driver in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. His vast experience i n Jammu and Kashmir, however, led Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to push him back into the State. In mid-1998, he was picked up on fabricated charges of rash and negligent driving. Mir was now offered a simple choice: to spend time i n jail or to head back into India.

By August 1998, Mir was completing his training in a camp on the Munshera-Gilgit road. The camp, he said, housed 110 Hizb-ul-Mujahideen recruits, of whom some 30 were Pakistani and Afghan nationals. On September 1, 1998, five sections from this camp were launched across the Line of Control at Athmuqam. Each section was armed, among other things, with a heavy machine-gun, four grenade launchers, rocket-propelled grenades, and sniper rifles fitted with night-vision devices. Mir, afraid of the waiting guns of Indian forces, led his section back into Pakistan. He was forced back again in October across the Lolab Valley, this time with a stern warning that cowardice would mean death.

An Indian Army post in Drass, which was destroyed by a Pakistani mortar.

Mir's group was in itself unexceptional, but its objectives were startling. It was tasked, in the words of his interrogation report, "to cause extensive damage to the Bandipore-Gurez road, and to ensure the isolation of the Army Division in Gurez so that a full-fledged front could be opened against them. Similarly, the group would cause extensive damage to the Kangan-Leh road to prevent vital supplies from reaching forces in the area." This left little to doubt. It served terrorists in the Gurez area li ttle to cut off the Indian Army's 28 Division, since those soldiers would continue operating against them locally. The objective, clearly stated, was to prevent reinforcements from being moved from the Gurez area and elsewhere into somewhere on the Kanga n-Leh road.

Somewhere on the Kangan-Leh road could only have meant the Drass and Kargil areas. Maps of these areas had been found on the body of Ali Mohammad Dar, a Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander killed in Srinagar by the Jammu and Kashmir Police's Special Operations Group on August 9, 1998. And there were other reasons to arrive at this conclusion. Intelligence operatives based in Leh had, in October, passed on reports that 350-odd irregulars were being trained in two camps in the general area of Olthingthang, Pakis tan's forward headquarters in the Kargil sector. The Leh reports specifically stated that the groups were to be infiltrated into the Kargil area in April this year. Shortly afterwards, further reports emerged from Indian intelligence in Leh warning that Remotely Piloted Vehicles, airborne surveillance platforms, were being used by Pakistan to monitor the Leh-Kargil area.

This body of information was received by the Ministry of Defence in the third week of October 1998. The Ministry's bureaucrats were evidently unmoved. Through the winter the RAW's Aviation Research Centre (ARC) carried out no regular surveillance flights along the Kargil sector, for reasons it best understands. Nor did the Indian Air Force send up aircraft for high-altitude reconnaissance on the snow-bound mountains. The Army, in turn, did not begin Wide Area Surveillance Operations, using its Cheetah h elicopters, until it became clear that Pakistani troops and irregulars had indeed occupied heights along some 250 km of the Srinagar-Leh National Highway. In the light of the intelligence information available, the failure even to monitor the Kargil sect or with special intensity seems inexcusable.

At the Bhisiana Air Force base in Bhatinda, military honours for Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja, whose body was handed over to Indian officials on May 28.

TROOPS elsewhere in Jammu and Kashmir did, indeed, sense trouble. Highly placed sources told Frontline that the possibility of a limited conventional engagement with Pakistani forces was discussed during the war game exercises that the Army's 15 C orps carried out in February. Indeed, troops of the 19 Division moved up the heights in Uri by March, an unusually early period for such mobilisation. It is unclear whether the 121 Brigade in Kargil was instructed to execute such manoeuvres and it failed to do so, or the need for such mobilisation was simply not felt. The scapegoating of the 3 Division's Corps Commander, V.S. Budhwar, and of 121 Brigade Commander Surinder Singh will serve no purpose. Contrary to reports in The Asian Age, both rem ain at their posts, but their operational authority has been curtailed. Nonetheless, serious questions remain to be answered.

While no one expects India's security establishment to act as an oracle, the fact is that it should have expected trouble. Northern Command chief Lieutenant General H.M. Khanna made the extraordinary admission on May 29 that Pakistan's aggression in Karg il was "unexpected". This, he said, was because Pakistan had been "talking peace while preparing for war". A Cover Story in Frontline (March 26, 1999) on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of the summit meeting in Lahore in February be tween Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Atal Behari Vajpayee had argued that expectations of an emerging peace were flawed. The Lahore summit, Frontline recorded, had "set in play forces whose course is yet unknown. But it seems increasingly improb able that this play will have a happy ending."

Flight Lieutenant Nachiketa of the IAF, in custody in Pakistan after the MiG-27 he was piloting was brought down by a Pakistani missile.

The article further noted that "most security officials in Jammu and Kashmir are deeply concerned about the summer to come. Intelligence officials point to nightmare scenarios, including the possibility of large-scale massacres of Hindus in Jammu leading to communal retaliation, and an escalation of exchanges across the Line of Control escalating to a point where international intervention becomes inevitable." Officials whom Frontline spoke to this spring were responding to an analysis of intelli gence information, the detailed content of which has now broadly become available. Their bosses in New Delhi were presumably too busy to pay attention to field reports.

THE prospect of a renewed Pakistani attempt to force events in Jammu and Kashmir had sharpened ever since the ill-conceived nuclear tests at Pokhran last year. The tests ensured that any generalised escalation along the Line of Control would bring about international intervention, Pakistan's long-held objective. India's strategic options in Jammu and Kashmir and its ability to make an adequate conventional response to Pakistan's offensive were thus sharply limited. Pakistan could now act secure in the k nowledge that any military engagement along the Line of Control would work to its benefit. Any military reverses it would suffer would be minimal, since India would not be able to engage the Pakistan Army outside Jammu and Kashmir.

On May 18, 1998, shortly after the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government's first major policy meeting on Jammu and Kashmir, Union Home Minister L.K. Advani made explicit a linkage between the Pokhran tests and India's strategic position. Perhaps no India n politician has made quite such a profound error of judgment on Jammu and Kashmir. Advani argued that India's "decisive step to become a nuclear weapon state has brought about a qualitative new state in India-Pakistan relations, particularly in find ing a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem. Islamabad has to realise the change in the geo-strategic situation in the region and the world."

Union Home Minister L.K. Advani. Shortly after Pokhran-II, he made a statement explicitly linking India's nuclear status and the Kashmir issue.

It did. The expensive and bloody campaign in Kargil is the result of Pakistan's cogent comprehension of just what the Pokhran tests meant for the future of Jammu and Kashmir. Indian soldiers are now paying with their lives for the crimes of a disorganise d and effete security establishment. And as this summer goes on, more lives could be lost. Security planners are concerned about the prospect of a second Pakistani incursion in the Uri-Gurez region, where troop strengths have been weakened following rede ployment in Kargil. Artillery fire has been exchanged in these areas; there have also been exchanges of small arms fire along the international border to the south. There is also the prospect of a serious escalation in violence within the State if larger numbers of Afghan and Pakistani terrorists are pushed in. Finally, with the Lok Sabha elections coming up, if more combat aircraft are lost the Union Government will be under tremendous pressure to retaliate against Pakistan.

The self-proclaimed defender of national unity, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has led India to its most serious crisis since the war of 1948. The end of the fighting in Kargil most certainly will not mean the beginning of peace.

The political and diplomatic background

JOHN CHERIAN cover-story

MANY experts had predicted that the conventional military superiority India had over Pakistan would be negated once Pakistan conducted nuclear tests. Last year, after both countries declared themselves nuclear powers, there were high-casualty border clas hes using heavy artillery. The exchange of fire killed a large number civilians on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir. There were indications that the Pakistani side had become more confident after the nuclear tests.

Pakistan Army chief General Parvez Musharraf stated earlier this year, while on a visit to the Pakistani positions on the Siachen Glacier, that "there is zero chance of war" between the two countries. Evidently, the Pakistani side was confident that give n its nuclear prowess it could afford to accelerate its support for militancy and insurgency in Kashmir without risking a war.

Indian Army chief General V.P. Malik, speaking after his Pakistani counterpart's views on war in the subcontinent were published, did not agree. Speaking to reporters on February 10, Malik said: "Having crossed the nuclear threshold does not mean that a conventional war is out." One of the important reasons why the Pakistani side has upped the ante this time by sending heavily armed infiltrators into Kargil and other parts of Kashmir may have been the impression that a conventional war between the two c ountries, given the changed circumstances after May 1998, is out of the question.

The Pakistan cricket team toured India. Pakistan had started selling sugar and onions to India. It was seriously considering the feasibility of selling power to India. The Pakistani side, considering the sale of surplus power, was headed by a senior Army officer. All this and the historic trip made by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to Lahore in February and the bonhomie between him and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif apparently lulled the Indian Government into believing that the borders bet ween the two countries would be quiet compared to previous years. Some people in the Indian Government are still giving Sharif and the Pakistani political establishment the benefit of the doubt. Defence Minister George Fernandes has said that the Sharif Government "did not have a major role" in the conspiracy to push infiltrators into Kashmir. He has instead blamed the Pakistan Army, suggesting that it acted independently of the Government.

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Many people in Pakistan, however, think otherwise. Since Sharif's return to power, he has systematically gone about removing or purging officials and functionaries opposed to him in the armed forces. The current Army chief reportedly owes his position to Sharif. Fernandes' interpretation has been coincidentally echoed by analysts of the United States who are close to the United States State Department. For example, Selig Harrison, writing in The New York Times, noted that Islamic militants in Pakistan had for some time been wielding quite a strong influence on the intelligence agencies. "I don't think that Pakistani forces are under unified control," opined Harrison. Infiltrating larg e numbers of guerrillas into Kargil, according to him, could have been done without the knowledge of the Sharif Government. Another U.S. expert on South Asia, George Perkovich, however, has discounted the possibility that Sharif was unaware of the Kargil infiltration. "Sharif has consolidated his power enough and the Army chief is handpicked by him. I cannot believe that he did not know."

INDIAN officials initially said that up to 700 militants, most of them battle-hardened Mujahideen who had seen action in Afghanistan, crossed over during the early winter thaw and took up positions near the towns of Drass and Kargil overlooking the key L eh-Srinagar highway. Indian Army spokesmen have been insisting that the Pakistani Army, besides providing logistical support, has been sending its own regulars.

As large-scale fighting erupted near Drass-Kargil-Batalik, it became evident that the number of infiltrators was much larger than that suggested by earlier official Indian estimates. The infiltrators, according to Defence Ministry sources, were also well entrenched in the heights overlooking the Leh-Kargil highway at heights ranging from 15,000 to 17,000 ft. There was intelligence failure on a colossal scale on the Indian side. The Indian Army has started blaming the intelligence agencies for the blunde r.

According to informed sources, Army headquarters had told Vajpayee that it would take at least two to three months to flush out the insurgents through ground operations alone. With the general elections not far away, this scenario was not acceptable to t he Government. So, for the first time, the Government requisitioned the large-scale use of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in peace time for counter-insurgency operations. The Defence Ministry, in its statement, said that air action was taken to discourage Pa kistan from extending its operations further. "Delayed reaction would have called for a more severe action, possibly increasing the areas as well as the scope of action," it said.

The Defence Ministry also asserted that if the insurgents were not evicted, the alignment of the LoC would be altered to the advantage of Pakistan and that the Srinagar-Leh highway would be under threat if decisive action was not taken immediately. The M inistry also warned Islamabad that "appropriate action" would be taken if "there is direct or indirect" interference by the Pakistan Army or Air Force.

Questions have been raised about the rationale behind the deployment of the Indian Air Force in what is basically a high-risk venture. It is well-known that the insurgents have in their arsenal sophisticated weaponry such as the Stinger hand-held anti-ai rcraft missile, which was used with devastating effect during the Afghan war against the Russian Air Force. The Drass-Kargil-Batalik sector boasts of one of the toughest terrains in the world.

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Indian Defence Ministry sources asserted that they would not be provoked to escalate the conflict and would "exercise restraint". Vajpayee has already had two telephonic conversations with Sharif. The latter's offer to send his Foreign Minister, Sartaj A ziz, to New Delhi to try and defuse the tense situation was accepted by Vajpayee on May 31. Vajpayee has, however, refused to accede to Sharif's suggestion that India stop its air strikes in Kargil so that peace talks could begin urgently. Vajpayee has a lso summarily rejected a proposal by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to send international observers to Kashmir. Rejecting the offer to send a special envoy to defuse the tension, Vajpayee said that India would continue its military operation s until all the intruders were flushed out.

The Indian Defence Ministry has said that it has achieved considerable success after launching "Operation Vijay" on May 25. Pakistan Army regulars and other intruders from two positions in Batalik and one position in Drass have been pushed out. But India n Army sources admit privately that removing all the well-entrenched intruders is going to take more time.

AN all-party meeting attended by 32 political parties on May 29 extended full support to the Government in its efforts to flush out the infiltrators. However, during the meeting Fernandes was severely criticised by many party leaders for his assertion th at Sharif and the ISI were not involved in the events along the LoC. Congress(I) leader Pranab Mukherjee said that Fernandes' statement was "unnecessary and uncalled for". The Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) demanded that the caret aker Vajpayee government should either disown or explain the Defence Minister's "irresponsible" statement. CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet asked the BJP-led government to act in a "restrained and responsible manner" on the Kargil issue " as neither the Indian nor the Pakistani people want a war at this juncture". He added that the Vajpayee government had reacted "very late" with regard to the Pakistani infiltration into Kargil.

In the line of fire

PRAVEEN SWAMI cover-story

An exclusive account from the combat zone, where India's grim war to regain the heights occupied by Pakistani irregulars and troops seems certain to continue for a long time.

PLUMES of smoke marked the spots where Indian artillery shells were exploding on the snow-capped summit of Tololing, the spectacular 5,140-metre mountain that dominates the Drass skyline. The artillery fire had turned the snow to a scarred dull grey colo ur. Just beyond the ridge-line were improvised bunkers built by some 70 Pakistani irregulars and troops. From their commanding heights, the group had succeeded in pinning down Indian soldiers who were lower down the face of the mountain. Dozens of artill ery shells, designed to devastate the bunkers and shower shrapnel from the air, went off all afternoon, as soldiers waited to launch their final assault.

India's grim war to regain the heights occupied by Pakistani irregulars and troops is being waged along some 200 km of the Srinagar-Leh National Highway from the Mushkoh Valley west of Kargil to Chorbat La and Turtok to its east. Several thousand village rs living in areas around Kargil and Drass have fled to safer areas and continue to face immense hardships.

In Drass, buildings that were destroyed in Pakistani artillery fire.

Notwithstanding the air strikes on the positions occupied by the Pakistani irregulars and troops, which began on May 26, the battle seems certain to continue for several weeks, if not months. This Frontline correspondent, the first representative of a media organisation to reach the combat zone, spent four days travelling through the area before other journalists were allowed in by the Indian Army.

DRASS itself resembled nothing so much as a Hollywood war-movie set. When Indian artillery positions opened fire on the positions held by Pakistani irregulars in Tololing and its surrounding ranges, Pakistani guns sought to silence them. They, however, f ailed, mostly hitting the largely Sunni Muslim town. The town's shops and post office were destroyed in the first phase of shelling that began on May 14. Drass' hospital received a direct hit that blew apart its maternity ward, medical stock room and adm inistrative offices. A newly erected mortuary too was hit. Ironically, there were no casualties since the patients had fled to the hills when the first shells began landing.

Nearby villages were also badly damaged. Three houses in Bayras village were completely destroyed, prompting all the 100 families of the village to move away. In Ranbirpora, at least seven homes received direct hits.

This is the beginning of the short summer season in Drass, the second coldest place in the world, where winter temperatures can drop to as low as 60C below zero. "If we don't water our fields now," said schoolteacher Nisar Ahmad, "there will be no food to last us through the winter. Then we will die anyway." Others returned to collect what remained of their possessions or to tend to their cattle. A local shopkeeper, Mohammad Yusuf, opened his shop for a few hours to gather what custom he could from th is thin trickle of visitors.

Some stayed on stoically, having decided to brave the artillery duels. Ghulam Nabi, who fought in the 1971 war, said: "This is the worst shelling I have ever seen, but I have nowhere to run. This is my home." Others too were standing by their posts. Hosp ital worker Mohammad Yusuf was using the local ambulance to drive Drass residents who came in during the day back to their homes. "I am a government servant," he said, "and this is my job." The shelling brought out a bizarre nostalgia in some people. "Th e last time Drass saw a war," recalled 70-year-old Abdul Ghafoor, "was in 1947. There was no shelling then. We saw aeroplanes bombing the heights, but they never came near the town, which was then just a village. I remember it well, for it was the first time I saw an aeroplane."

UNLIKE Drass, Kargil town has suffered little physical damage. In 1998, Pakistani shelling destroyed several buildings and claimed 17 lives. Village homes in Baru and above Kargil have been hit, but casualties have been minimal. Liaqat Ali, 24, was kille d when a Pakistani shell burst above the field he was working in. There are, however, other less dramatic problems. Food supplies, exhausted through the winter, are running low. Little other than rice and watery dal is available, and even the black marke t for vegetables offers little other than beetroot leaves. The Army has sought to keep the road from Srinagar exclusively for military use, and only 10 truckloads of food supplies for civilians have been despatched since the fighting broke out.

There is some semblance of normalcy in Kargil during the day. Some shops remain open, selling cigarettes, tea and instant noodles to the small number of people stuck in the town. At the Saichen Hotel, which is home for the night to travellers on the Leh- Srinagar highway, Lala Ram Chand, a cloth trader from Amritsar, was waiting patiently for the road to open. Improbably, an ice-cream factory is up and running, churning out kilos of luridly coloured bars. Most families have, however, left for the relativ e safety of nearby villages, taking their belongings with them. Some labourers have found work hauling supplies up the mountains for the Army, a task for which they charge twice the normal daily wage.

THE soldiers, however, get paid nothing for war, and many of them appear to be bitter about the failure of Indians elsewhere to acknowledge the sacrifices they are making. "I know no one invited me to wear this uniform," one young officer said, "but it i s strange going back home to people who have no idea of what is going on here." At least 34 soldiers have died so far in the fighting, and 14 are missing. All but five of the 14 are presumed dead, perhaps shot on their way up the formidable Kargil mounta ins in near-impossible missions to storm Pakistan-occupied positions. Well over 100 soldiers have been injured, a quarter of them seriously. These casualty figures are the highest since the Indian Army's ill-fated intervention in Sri Lanka.

Indian troops in the Kargil sector.

13,620 is a place without a name, known only by the altitude (in feet) of the mountain on which it is perched. It dominates Kargil town and is the key to its safety from Pakistani guns. Artillery observers can, from their picket on 13,620, watch deep int o Pakistan, helping their distant detachments zero in on targets, including Pakistan's forward headquarters at Olthangthing. Indian troops captured 13,620 in the 1965 war, but it was returned to Pakistan after the Tashkent Accord. In 1971, Indian troops recaptured 13,620 after two MiG-21 jets bombed Pakistani troops on the mountain.

Soldiers posted on 13,620 have a dangerous job. Since the time the fighting broke out around Kargil, they have been under almost continuous fire from artillery and small arms. On one occasion, rockets landed just a few metres away from the earth bunkers that make up the post. Much of the troops' time is spent huddled inside the earth bunkers in freezing cold, venturing out in turns to keep watch on Pakistani pickets lower down the ridge. There is always the threat that a Pakistani artillery shell will b urst above the post. Such a hit would kill or maim the soldiers there. Moving supplies up the mountain face to 13,620 is particularly dangerous since parts of the steep climb are clearly visible to Pakistani soldiers.

Down the mountain face from 13,620 lie several Indian artillery positions hidden behind ridge-lines to protect them from enemy fire. Positions such as these appear every few kilometres from Gumri to Batalik, letting loose thunderclaps through the valleys with metronome regularity. At one position, 105-millimetre Indian field guns were going off without a break, firing up to 50 rounds in a row until their barrels turned red hot and had to be left to cool. Their targets were Pakistani guns around Olthangt hing that were firing to suppress Indian guns aimed at the positions occupied by Pakistani irregulars and troops. Artillery warfare in the Himalayas is a strange business. High-altitude winds, poor visibility and constantly changing atmospheric condition s reduce accuracy to a third of what it would be on the plains. Volumes make up for lack of precision.

Life in the bunkers.

MANY of the soldiers at Kargil have been on the front lines since 1997, since when the town has been under almost uninterrupted shelling. "I missed my own wedding three times," says artillery officer Captain Ranjit Singh. "I am still amazed that my wife didn't call the whole thing off." Soldiers at Ranjit Singh's artillery post spend much of their time huddled in dingy bunkers, living off the minimum rations that make their way up a brutal dirt track to reach their post. They, like the soldiers fighting on the mountainsides, have no chance to bathe for weeks on end. The soldiers cannot see where their shells land, but can hear Pakistani shells screaming overhead and slamming into the Kargil valley below.

Kargil has seen its ammunition dump and fuel depot reduced to rubble in this summer's exchanges. The dump was hit early in the firing, sending both the town and the 121 Brigade's headquarters scurrying into bunkers for days as shells whizzed around. Posi tions around the airstrip that is under construction and the television station have been under particularly heavy fire. Superintendent of Police Deepak Kumar's home, and that of his neighbour, the District Collector, too were shelled. On May 23, an Army vehicle repair workshop received a direct hit which set it ablaze. This shelling claimed no casualties. Six soldiers were injured a day earlier, two of them maimed for life, when a shell landed just 200 metres from where the Frontline team was.

Indian Army positions in Drass, by contrast, suffered relatively little damage. The 56 Brigade Headquarters, erected after the unit was pushed in from the Kashmir Valley to cope with the crisis, was under constant bombardment. On the night of May 23, the Brigade Headquarters' mess and an improvised temple were burned down. The ruins were still smouldering on the morning of May 24 when Frontline photographed them. There were no casualties since troops and strategic operations centres were ensconce d in bunkers some distance away. "This is what a war is all about," said Commanding Officer Amar Aul. "Perhaps the only consolation is that we know we are giving considerably better than we are getting."

In Kargil town, shops have remained closed since the shelling began.

That, however, is not enough for many junior officers. "I lost four boys on a mountain in Batalik," said one young major. "Their bodies are still on the snow. Every time we try to get them down, the Pakistanis start firing from their bunkers up the mount ains." Several officers whom Frontline spoke to bitterly described the frustrations of fighting a war where the enemy may not be attacked. "It is one thing to die in a real war," one captain said. "But this is not a real war. Pakistan has invaded us, but we cannot retaliate in the same way. Our men are being slaughtered to get back what is ours in the first place. I can't stop thinking that perhaps we will have to do this again next year, and the next."

Colonel Ajit Nair, 121 Brigade Deputy Commander perhaps understands the sentiment. In the autumn of 1988, he was posted in the same brigade as a junior officer. Kargil was then a coveted posting, free from the simmering tensions of the Kashmir Valley and shielded from the bloodbath on the Siachen Glacier. On August 22 that year, Ajit Nair led a patrol to remove mines from the makeshift road to Daru Lang, one of the last Indian positions won in 1971 on the Line of Control. Once they reached the Daru Lang heights on September 8, they found a Pakistani picket there. Attempts to conduct a dialogue broke down when the Pakistani soldiers opened fire with small arms a week later. Ajit Nair's party withdrew and called for support.

With brief pauses akin to advertisement breaks during a cricket match, the war on Kargil's heights has continued ever since. This summer, it has finally reached a climax that India can no longer afford to ignore.

Pakistan's strategy

Pakistan's move in Kargil is part of a calculated design to revive the flagging militancy in Kashmir and place the dispute squarely in the focus of the international community.

THE peace process has been shattered and the "spirit" of Lahore has vanished. Barely three months after the euphoric "bus diplomacy" between India and Pakistan, infiltrators from Pakistan into India have triggered the worst crisis between the two countri es since the 1971 war.

Pakistan's Army and intelligence agencies, aware that the militancy in Kashmir was flagging, have raised the stakes by sending in hundreds of armed and trained intruders across the Line of Control (LoC) in the Kargil and Drass sectors. The infiltrators are backed to the hilt by the Nawaz Sharif Government. The air strikes by India appear to be a belated attempt to dislodge the militants from the strategic heights they have occupied.

The first signs of trouble came soon after the Lahore summit meeting between Sharif and Atal Behari Vajpayee. The appointment of Javed Nasir, a former chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), as the head of a Pakistani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committe e, and Sharif's action in granting an audience to Ganga Singh Dhillon, a symbol of the discredited Khalistan movement, were pointers that trust between the two countries remained at a premium.

One can say without fear of contradiction that the Pakistani exercise across the LoC had been planned for months. The experience of Afghanistan and Pakistan's role there will be instructive for those who are keen to know what is happening in Kargil. The Pakistani "role" in Afghanistan was known for long - the Taliban received moral and material support from Pakistan. Likewise, a large number of the "jehadi groups" that operate in Jammu and Kashmir have their bases and training camps in Pakistan-Occup ied Kashmir or in Afghanistan. Groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen have a substantial base among fundamentalist organisations in Pakistan. The former draws recruits from the Markaz dawa wal Irshad and the latter from the Jamaat- e-Islami.

These groups have offices in Muzaffarabad, and even in Islamabad. They were angered by the show of neighbourhood diplomacy in Lahore in February, and the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen even threatened Nawaz Sharif with dire consequences. Evidently, since then much h as happened that has served to appease these outfits.

Strictly speaking, the Government of Pakistan does not need to send in any of its regular troops across the LoC. The madrasas in Pakistan, many of which are backed by militant outfits, churn out enough recruits for the Kashmir "jehad". Along with religio us instruction, many madrasas, in collaboration with the militant groups, offer military training. The Pakistani intelligence oversees the entire process and backs the groups that toe its line and further its interests. The recruits, unlike in the initia l years of militancy in Kashmir, are Pakistanis, Afghans and "jehadis" from many other countries, who believe that their religion calls upon them to fight the "Hindu oppressor" in Kashmir. In the light of the Afghanistan experience, it can be assumed t hat Pakistan has sent in mercenaries whose link with its intelligence establishment cannot be easily traced.

The Pakistan Government is aware that the militancy in Kashmir does not draw as much support as it did in the early 1990s. It may be better organised and may produce better results, but it is not popular. The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), w hich began the militancy in the late 1980s, has no role to play today. Its founder, the Rawalpindi-based Amanullah Khan, lives under virtual house arrest, his movements under constant watch by the Pakistani intelligence. The reason for this is that Amanu llah Khan remains committed to the cause of "Kashmiri" independence, not to the "right of self-determination" as mentioned in the United Nations resolutions relating to the Kashmir dispute, which give Kashmiris the only option of joining Pakistan.

Any Kashmiri leader who has demonstrated independence of mind has been discarded by the Pakistan Government. Only those who are servile, who unquestioningly toe the line laid down by the ISI, are favoured with funds, arms, communications equipment and m ilitary training.

Pakistan has come to realise that it has to do something "different" to keep the pot boiling in Kashmir. And what better way than to send in well trained mercenaries to take over strategic heights in the Kargil and Drass sectors, which overlook the Kargi l-Leh road, so vital for India's communication links.

Pakistan had earlier alleged that India launched an attack in the Shyok sector on May 6. (New Delhi denied the charge.). The Nation reported (on May 7) that a "large number of Indian intruders" were killed and injured. On May 15, The Nation reported that Pakistan had "captured" five strategic posts in the Kargil sector. The newspaper reported on May 18 that Pakistan continued to occupy the 20 posts it had "wrested" from the Indian Army. No immediate denial of this came from the official mo uthpiece of the Pakistan Army, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Directorate. Several days later, the ISPR stated that the Pakistan Army had not captured any Indian posts.

The Kargil operation was meticulously planned. The despatch of heavily armed militants to Kargil was intended to raise the stakes on the LoC and also to secure a response from India. The "hotting up" of the situation along the LoC, Pakistan believes, wil l help focus international attention on Kashmir, which has become a "nuclear flashpoint" since May 1998.

The attempt, clearly, was to secure the involvement of the international community in Kashmir. A Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman said on May 26 that the U.N. Secretary-General should send a special envoy to the region and the U.N. Military Observer Gro up in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) should be reinforced and activated. "Kashmir is a nuclear flashpoint," he stated.

Significantly, the spokesman stated that the air attacks by Indian aircraft were conducted on the Indian side of the LoC, but that some "bombs" had fallen on the Pakistan side. The import of the statement was to become clear the next day. On May 27, Majo r-General Anis Bajwa, Vice-Chief of the General Staff of the Pakistan Army, claimed - contrary to the previous day's remarks by the Foreign Office spokesman - that Indian aircraft had rocketed and strafed Pakistani positions in the Indus sub-sector on Ma y 26 and flown back. He further claimed that when the Indian aircraft came again on May 27 to the same area, they were shot down.

Gen. Bajwa said that Flight Lieutenant Nachiketa (No. 1135, 9 Squadron, Srinagar) piloting a MiG-27 was in Pakistani custody while Squadron Leader (Ajay) Ahuja was "unfortunately killed". Ahuja's body was handed over to the Indian side on May 28, and the Indian Army stated that the body bore bullet wounds. The reports also suggest that Ahuja had ejected safely and had used his parachute. Foreign journalists, who were taken by Pakistani authorities to see both the crashed aircraft, saw Ahuja's personal effects, including his personal weapon, which had his name engraved on it.

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On May 28, Brigadier Rashid Qureshi stated that an Indian helicopter was brought down by "Indian fire" during air strikes on the positions held by mercenary militants. Soon after, the United Jehadi Council claimed responsibility for the downing of the MI -17 helicopter. "The downing of the Indian helicopter gunship is the result of the collective operation of all the Mujahideen in the Council," said Syed Salahuddin, Council "chief" and supreme commander of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. The Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (formerly the Harkat-ul-Ansar) and the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen are the main groups in this Pakistan-backed Council.

Initially, the Tehrik-e-Jihad, a similar front, had stated that its armed mercenaries had taken position on the heights in the Kargil and Drass sectors. Soon, the other major militant outfits announced that they were sending "reinforcements" to the area. Clearly, all the pro-Pakistan militant outfits, which receive their sustenance from Pakistan, are operating in the Kargil and Drass sectors.

However, the Pakistani strategy has not succeeded in getting the international community to put pressure on India. The West has limited itself to counselling both India and Pakistan to exercise restraint. Of late, relations between the United States and Pakistan seem to have become strained.

Addressing a public meeting in Karachi on May 28, Yaum-i-Takbeer ('The Great Day') - the first anniversary of the Chagai nuclear tests - Prime Minister Sharif stated that he had spoken on the telephone to his Indian counterpart. The Information Minister stated on May 29 that Sharif was merely returning Vajpayee's call of May 24.

State-run television reported that Sharif had offered to send Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz to Delhi for talks and that he had said that issues between India and Pakistan could be resolved across the table, not by sending in aircraft.

The Sharif Government has made it clear that the objective of the Aziz visit was not merely to defuse the tension but to find a permanent solution to the Kashmir issue. That, in itself, is a giveaway. The dialogue process between India and Pakistan is on ; it is Pakistan which has chosen not to respond to India's offer to hold Foreign Secretary-level talks, which cover the all-important issues of peace and security and Kashmir.

Why did Pakistan shy away from Foreign Secretary-level talks? Why is Pakistan now willing to send its Foreign Minister for talks? Given the fact that Pakistan does not recognise the mercenary Mujahideen as anything but a "Kashmiri" force, what is there t o talk about? Will Aziz agree that the Mujahideen who are operating from camps in POK should withdraw to their earlier locations? That seems a highly unlikely proposition.

The Pakistani move in Kargil is part of a cold, calculated strategy. Apart from flogging the militancy in Kashmir, the attempt is to put Kashmir on the front-burner. Since February 1997, Pakistani spokesmen have tom-tommed their success in making the Kas hmir issue visible internationally and in placing it on the top of the agenda for the dialogue with India.

There are no divisions in the Pakistani establishment. The Army is under the control of Nawaz Sharif and it is he who calls the shots in Pakistan. The ISI continues its operations against India and in Kashmir; there is no contradiction here. Civilian Min isters and Army officials continue to echo each other in their daily diatribes against India. When it comes to taking an anti-India stand, the Pakistani establishment is solid as a rock. Kargil reflects that reality.

The hawks in India have clearly been taken for a ride by the hawks in Pakistan. When Vajpayee arrived at Wagah on that clear afternoon of February 20, Sharif offered him "half a hug", nothing more. That is the ground reality of India-Pakistan relations. Nothing, apart from the atmospherics, had changed since February.

In the 10 years of Kashmiri militancy, Pakistan had never tried such an adventure. A self-proclaimed nationalist government was in power in New Delhi when the infiltration took place. Kargil demands a re-examination of the Indian approach towards Pakista n. Lack of coherence must yield ground to a cogent policy.

A turning point in Kashmir

V.R. RAGHAVAN cover-story

The Kargil conflict has long-term security implications for India and Pakistan.

IN the Lahore Declaration signed in February 1999 by the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, one of the paragraphs in the preamble reads, "the nuclear dimension of the security environment of the two countries adds to their responsibility for avoidanc e of conflict between the two countries..." It goes on to emphasise that "an environment of peace and security is in the supreme national interest of both sides." The Memorandum of Understanding signed at the time went a long way in identifying specific measures that India and Pakistan would take to implement the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) that already exist and even review them for improvement.

Within three months of the Lahore high point, relations between the two countries have reached a nadir. Kargil, a small district headquarter town situated between the remote Zanskar and the Ladakh ranges, has become the cause celebre in the tragic and avoidable crashing down of hopes generated at Lahore.

During my years in the Kargil area, I was once asked to inaugurate a local festival. A favourite sport of the Kargilis is archery. The young and old were enthusiastically engaged in shooting at small wooden pegs stuck on mounds of earth a long distance a way. A venerable elder asked the D.C. sahib sitting next to me to shoot a few arrows at the targets. The gentle bespoke bureaucrat went up to the mike and announced in inimitable Urdu, "I do not shoot. In Kargil we often get shot at and that is enough fo r me." That remark was received with great applause and appreciation for the understanding he showed of the situation in Kargil. It has remained a perennial target for the Pakistan Army to practise its gunnery. In an indescribably beautiful area of orcha rds, green meadows and water mills, there are villages which have to be vacated year after year when the Pakistani guns rain down death.

The Pakistani military's obsession with Kargil is a favourite subject of speculation over fragrant tea in the town and somewhat stronger beverages in Army messes. Since 1947, the Indian Army has fought some of its toughest combat actions in this area. A few months after Independence, Pakistani troops and irregulars entered Kargil and branched out south to the Zoji-La Pass and east to Leh. They were stopped at the pass by some very brave fighters and prevented from entering into the Srinagar bowl. As for Leh, skirmishes took place within an hour's drive from it. It required the vision of Gen. K.S. Thimayya to plan the recapture of Kargil. He worked a column of troops into Leh through what is today Himachal Pradesh. This march over high passes and diffic ult mountains took months. Thimayya simultaneously put into effect a master stroke by getting an airstrip ready at Leh and forcing the unprecedented entry of tanks on the Zoji-La. In modern Indian military history, the link-up at Kargil by the two column s from Leh and Zoji-La is a memorable event. It needed one year to complete as the troops had to wait out the winter of 1947.

Kargil's relief was short-lived. While the Pakistanis were pushed out of the town, they held the heights overlooking it. From 1948 to 1965 the Kargilis lived under the direct sight of Pakistanis, who rained artillery fire without any pretext every other day. During winter Kargil and Leh are cut off by snow from the rest of the country. They need to be stocked up for winter since the road remains snow-bound for seven months. Unlike Leh and Srinagar, Kargil did not have an air link. The small air strip at Kargil was in view of the Pakistani posts on the hills. Aircraft would land there by running the gauntlet of fire. The Pakistani artillery fire made the road that brought supplies to Kargil and Leh unusable for long periods.

In 1965, on the night the war started, Indian infantry charged up to clear the Pakistanis from the hilltops around Kargil. One of the battalion commanders was advised to wait for a day for preparations to be made for the attack. He attacked the same nigh t saying, "I do not want to gain time and lose the blood of my men." These gains, made with a loss of lives, were undone when, as part of the Tashkent Accord, the captured hills were returned to Pakistan - with disastrous results for the people of Kargil .

In 1971, the hills were recaptured and the Pakistanis were pushed back farther than in 1965. Notwithstanding this, there are some stretches of the Srinagar-Leh road that are still visible to Pakistani posts from a considerable distance. These posts attem pt to fire at the road, but with little effect.

During the period of Pakistan-inspired militancy in the Valley, Kargil has remained adamantly uncooperative with the militant outfits. The people of Kargil have not sided with militancy. They have showed no interest in Pakistan's designs on Kashmir. Karg il is also an overwhelmingly Shia Muslim area. Other than isolated instances of aberrations, Kargil has not supported the militants and their activities. Pakistan's attempts to push in infiltrators through this sector have always failed with heavy losses in men and equipment to them. As a consequence and perhaps because of its unwillingness to support militancy, Pakistan has intensified its attacks on Kargil town and the villages around it in the last few years, with considerable damage to property and life in the area.

Since the Pakistani military cannot reach Kargil by ground, it has attempted since 1971 and particularly in the last few years to do so with its guns. It has targeted the homes, cattle and fields of the Kargilis. When that did not work and its other aven ues of entry into the Valley were effectively curtailed, it has now attempted a new method. In the process, it has raised the threshold of its military involvement in Kashmir to new and dangerous levels. The intrusion in May 1999 in the Kargil sector, wi th militants armed to hitherto unattainable levels, portrays an altogether different approach. This time the intention is apparently to take and hold territory in Jammu and Kashmir and invite an Indian response. The selection of the area, the timing of t he intrusion, the extent of area taken and the preparedness of the intruding groups are unique. They are also indicative of the planning, preparation and combat support made available to the intruders. These are not irregulars of the kind so far seen in the Valley. The Indian suspicion that they are Pakistani military personnel with an irregular patina is therefore not misplaced.

THE choice of the Kargil sector for the major intrusion requires some explaining. This is the only sector on the Line of Control (LoC) where Pakistani posts have an advantage of higher positions. Elsewhere on the LoC, they are at a disadvantage since the dominating heights are held by the Indian military. Pakistan's military has a long history of attempting a direct and frontal approach to military operations. It has abiding faith in its ability to make deep inroads and cut off road arteries. It tried i t in Chhamb and Akhnoor in 1965 and 1971 but, despite initial successes, failed in its objective. In Kargil the same operational philosophy leads it to believe that it can cut the Srinagar-Leh road. This it believes will land into its hands a large chunk of territory, which can be used to force an unfavourable bargain on India.

The Kargil sector extends to about 150 km, with Drass at one end and Batalik at the other. The Pakistani intrusions cover over 100 km of the Kargil sector. The intruders have occupied areas that were not held by Indian troops. Moving such large numbers i n such a large area - even though the extent of intrusion is not large - requires preparation and planning. Irregulars cannot manage such operations without general staff and logistics support. That can only come from an Army - that of Pakistan.

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The intruders are being supported by artillery fire from inside Pakistani territory. They have helicopter support for supplies. The radio frequencies the intruders are using are not of the citizen band but those normally reserved for military purposes. T he Indian Director-General of Military Operation (DGMO) raised this with his Pakistani counterpart on the hotline. He was informed that these might be freedom fighters and Pakistan did not have anything to do with them! Recently, documents found from the areas cleared of the intruders indicated the presence of Pakistani military personnel with the intruders. In the face of this evidence, the inability of major countries to accept Pakistan's claims of innocence was inevitable.

PAKISTAN'S Kargil venture is indicative of two principal influences in Pakistan. First, the long-prevalent doubts about the military in Pakistan running its own foreign policy stand confirmed. This happened in Afghanistan and now there are clear indicato rs of it in the Kargil adventure. It is difficult to believe that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who won his parliamentary majority with a mandate for peace on the subcontinent, could do Lahore as a subterfuge. If it was so, it would be an impossible recor d for him to live down. The second influence is a constructive one: a momentum for peace and stability has been built in Pakistan. The military is finding it difficult to countenance this; this has led to a situation in which it is doing what it does bes t, that is, create a war-like condition to ruin the Lahore dream.

Pakistan's military has presented the political establishment with complex dilemmas. On the one hand, Sharif cannot allow this large group of intruders to be eliminated by Indian military action. On the other, he cannot also accept the consequences of ba cking their presence in Indian territory indefinitely. The intruders would, before long, face the brunt of ground operations by the Indian Army in addition to the air attacks. They are going to be isolated in small groups and eliminated piecemeal, one by one. Under the circumstances, the Pakistan Prime Minister's offer to send his Foreign Minister may be more a pointer to his limited options than to any ability to impose terms. As for the Pakistan military, another defeat in its well-laid plans will be a daunting prospect. The military in Pakistan, even if it tilts at the windmills of peace, will remain an important constituency. It will serve many interests to allow it an exit route out of the impasse. That will strengthen Nawaz Sharif and the peace c onstituency.

As for India, there were only two options to deal with the situation. It has rightly discarded the option of inaction by going for the air attacks. It has sent a clear message on where it will draw the line, on transgression of its sovereignty and territ orial integrity. It has also introduced an element of the unexpected into the Pakistan military's calculations and will thus set it thinking. The loss of aircraft, however unfortunate, cannot be allowed to defer the operational plans to evict the intrusi ons. The threat of elimination in combat will have to remain the principal threat to the intruders and will need to be put into effect. That process is already under way.

Pakistan will make every attempt to seek parleys on equal terms in order to delay the inevitable on the ground and the unpredictable political and international fall-out. It would like the Indian military response to be stopped while talks get started. T he usual arguments about creating the right ambience, allowing tempers to cool, will be trotted out. Not unexpectedly, Pakistan will seek to introduce the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) into the pullout process and thereby bring U.N. observers back into play. After the 1971 war, India had argued that the U.N. observers have no role to play in the bilateral arrangements envisaged under the Shimla Accord.

While the military operations continue - and they should not be terminated until the intrusions are undone - there is a need to be clear about what is the end result expected of the parleys. The pressure for parleys is bound to grow and India will find i t difficult to refuse to join them. It is difficult to see how the talks can be handled at the Foreign Secretary level while intense military and diplomatic action is on. It may be better to constitute two special teams comprising Foreign, Defence, and H ome Ministry officials of appropriate seniority to hammer out the issues. Later, when the talks are concluded, the resulting arrangements can be signed at the appropriate levels.

What is it that needs to be negotiated - other than a pullback by the intruders across the LoC? There is much that can be re-asserted during these talks. The first thing which Pakistan must accept, re-assert and comply with in future is the status of the LoC. It is not a line that can be unilaterally shifted, trespassed upon or violated. The reported statement by a spokesman for the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) that Pakistan does not accept the LoC as sacrosanct will have to be repudiated. It is po ssible to evolve CBMs to ensure that neither side need be anxious about encroachments across the LoC during winter when some posts are vacated. It is also possible to put into place CBMs which allow better joint verification of alleged LoC violations tha n has been possible thus far. There is no harm in intimating each other of a list of posts which are vacated or retained during winter. These measures would obviate the need to maintain military presence in ever-increasing areas and numbers. This would r educe costs and budgets on both sides. It is time that India insisted on political directions to the military in Pakistan to work the CBMs that have been agreed upon.

None of the above can come about by an Indian effort alone. The international response to Indian statements that it is merely clearing its own territory of intruders has been favourable. This can quickly change if Indian military operations continue for very long or if they lead to unpredictable reactions from Pakistan. These will be seen as destabilising by the international community. It will be prudent to control the military operations carefully to keep them at a threshold which does not engender an xieties of a wider conflict. The synergy between the military, diplomatic and political responses will remain an important requirement. The Indian political leadership at the high levels will need to maintain contact internationally to assuage fears and obtain the support necessary for the plans in hand.

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The role of political parties in evolving a response to the Kargil developments will be crucial. In the democratic tradition, they must remain vigilant on the course the Kargil situation takes and be critical of policies when they are inappropriate or in adequate. This is particularly so since the present Government's record in matters of defence management has been the cause of much dissatisfaction. The Government will also do well to remember its caretaker status and keep the political leadership acros s the board informed. A consultative rather than unilateral approach to India's response to Kargil will serve the nation's interests best. Political concern for casualties suffered by the Indian defence and paramilitary forces has been traditionally inad equate. This is viewed by the forces as neglect and political opportunism. A major military operation that takes casualties and does not show concern for the feelings of the troops is a sure recipe for disillusionment among them.

The September of 1999 can be a cruel one in many ways. The Kosovo situation will have to find some outcome before the onset of winter. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is another milestone that is yet to be crossed. This Government, which spent a year claiming credit for the nuclear tests, has done little to evolve a national consensus on the issue. There can be pressures on the caretaker government through all these influences. The elections due in September-October will also be a factor. Thro ugh whom and how will political directions be made available to the Chiefs of Staff Committee during the close combat of the electoral battlefield, which will start soon? This Government, fighting for its life in Parliament, could not find the time for t he needs of the Chiefs of the Services. How will it do so when its political warhorses are out at the hustings? These and other questions on the Government's ability to deliver are already being asked. There is no better time for this Government to demon strate its abilities than in the coming weeks and months.

Kargil has raised many issues and more will become apparent as the situation unfolds. The military option is for the time being the appropriate one; without this, there can be no resolution of the situation created by the Pakistan military. It cannot, ho wever, be the sole option. There is a change in the global tolerance levels of armed conflicts, particularly those which have an impact on other countries. An unrestricted freedom to carry on with the military option indefinitely is no longer a total sov ereign right. Conducting military operations has always required as much political skill as high military competence. The military instrument needs to be used with an understanding of the larger context of regional and international security.

Kargil has brought India and Pakistan to a turning point. It is time to look beyond Kargil to the long-term security implications of the Kashmir issue for the well-being of the two countries. The road map in the long term has to be one of going ahead of the Lahore initiative. It is to be hoped that the map to Lahore and beyond has not been torn and thrown away, in the heat of combat actions in progress.

Lt. Gen. V.R. Raghavan, a former Director-General of Military Operations,is Director of the Delhi Policy Group.

Broadening the base

Pakistan's intrusion into Kargil has taken place in a Muslim-dominated area which maintained a studious distance from terrorism and right-wing secessionist mobilisations.

THERE is a curious quality of stillness to the Kashmir Valley's political landscape, as if the thunder of war from the mountains to its west did not exist at all. On the third day of India's air strikes in Kargil, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah spent sev eral hours ensconced in a meeting at the picturesque town of Gulmarg to discuss, improbably, the prospects of the State's tourism policy. And Srinagar's gossip circuit seems more engaged with the strange tale of just why a State Government helicopter tha t crashed recently was not insured than with the fire directed at Indian combat jets.

However, the brutal fighting in Kargil will almost certainly shape the terms of political discourse within Jammu and Kashmir in the near future. Coming just months before the Lok Sabha elections, Pakistan's Kargil campaign will have a profound impact not only on short-term election processes but on the State's broader political terrain.

Perhaps the most important fact about Pakistan's intrusion into Kargil is that it has taken place in a Muslim-dominated area which maintained a studious distance from both terrorism and right-wing secessionist mobilisations elsewhere in the State. The Zo ji-La pass, which separates Kargil from the Kashmir Valley, marked not only a geographic division, but a discontinuity in cultural and political space. At no point in the last 10 years did Kargil's largely Shia or Drass' predominantly Sunni community sup port Kashmir Valley-based secessionist groups. There was no terrorist activity west of the Zoji-La pass, and although Kargil has its share of Shia chauvinist groups their mobilisations centred principally around local issues.

Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah.

Should Pakistan now be able to sustain armed violence through the Kargil area over the coming months and years, much of that is likely to change. It, along with pro-Pakistan groups in the rest of Jammu and Kashmir, will be able to claim that anti-India i nsurgency has spread to all Muslim-dominated areas of the State. That, in turn, could lay the foundations for a new discourse on Jammu and Kashmir, built along its communal fault lines. The first phase of armed anti-India struggle in Jammu and Kashmir wa s routinely dismissed by strategists as a problem of four valley districts. Few anticipated its rise in the Muslim-dominated areas north of the Chenab in Rajouri and Poonch, or in Doda and Udhampur.

This broadening of the frontiers of anti-India insurgency comes at a time of curious political developments in the State. On April 13, the high-powered Regional Autonomy Commission (RAC) put out a report recommending the creation of eight new provinces, each with an elected provincial council. The stated reason for its recommendation was that "the prevailing classifications of provinces/divisions are hampering the processes of social/human development." In Kashmir, the RAC advocated the creation of thre e provinces, Kamraz province made up of the districts of Baramulla and Kupwara, Nundabad from Budgam and Srinagar and Maraz from Anantnag and Pulwama.

Other recommendations were less innocuous. The existing region of Ladakh, the RAC recommended, should be broken into two new provinces. These would consist of just one district each, those of predominantly Buddhist Leh and predominantly Muslim Kargil. Al ready sundered by the exclusion of Kargil from the Ladakh Autonomous Council which was set up in 1989, the transfiguration of the two districts into provinces would serve only to sharpen communal and ethnic boundaries. In the context of the recent develo pments in Kargil and their political implications, the creation of these new provinces would have obvious significance.

An Army convoy moves through Zoji-La pass, which separates Kargil from the Kashmir Valley. The fighting in Kargil is certain to shape the terms of political discourse within Jammu and Kashmir.

The most dramatic impact of the RAC recommendations would be on Jammu. The RAC report made no effort to hide its authors' motives. The district of Doda and the single Muslim-dominated tehsil of Mahore from the adjoining district of Udhampur would be made into a new Chenab Valley province. Largely Hindu Jammu, Kathua and Udhampur districts would become the Jammu province. Poonch and Rajouri districts, for their part, would form the Pir Panjal province. The existing province of Jammu would thus be turned into three provincial blocks divided along the fault lines of Hindu and Muslim communities in the region.

The RAC report, issued after its Chairman Balraj Puri was dismissed for his stubborn resistance to this communal enterprise, provoked little attention either inside or outside Jammu and Kashmir. It bore remarkable structural similarities to ideas put for ward by the United Nations mediator on Kashmir, Owen Dixon, in 1950. The Dixon Plan called for the international border to run broadly north of the Chenab river, cutting apart predominantly Muslim Doda, Rajouri and Poonch from Jammu, and joining them to the Kashmir Valley. Hindu-dominated Kathua and Jammu would have stayed with India. Shortly after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's bus ride to the Wagah border, an influential United States-based think-tank, the Kashmir Studies Group, had put out a p aper calling in essence for a revival of the Dixon Plan.

Perhaps most important, according to the RAC report, subterranean political tendencies in the State appear overground. Since at least 1996, influential figures in the National Conference have been pushing hard to transform the character of Jammu, a commu nally diverse but culturally coherent region. Surankote MLA Mushtaq Ahmad Bukhari and Finance Minister Mohammad Shafi Uri, both members of the RAC, were among the key figures who called for such restructuring. Prominent Jammu business figure Ramesh Gupta , the brother of Udhampur's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of Parliament Chaman Lal Gupta, had separately made clear his support for a sundering of Jammu from the Kashmir Valley, though for different reasons and on different terms. Jammu and Kashmir 's former princely ruler, Karan Singh, too had expressed support for such a division to senior political figures in the State.

CPI(M) State secretary and MLA Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami.

It takes little to see why Hindu chauvinists and communalists in the ruling National Conference (N.C.) arrived at essentially similar positions. But read in the context of this summer's events in Kargil, such political tendencies appear positively sinist er. While no Indian Government in the foreseeable future will be able to negotiate a territorial settlement on Jammu and Kashmir's future to Pakistan's advantage, the battle in Kargil will clearly create an impact on existing communal tendencies both ins ide and outside the State Government. In the absence of a strong, ideologically committed secular formation in Jammu and Kashmir, moves to carve up the State's people on communal lines will sadly face little real resistance.

Politicians of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) are also certain to benefit from the events in Kargil. Pakistan's willingness to engage Indian troops and hold territory, as well as its success in bringing down two combat aircraft and a helicopter , have given right-wing Islamist organisations within the APHC more than a little reason for cheer. The APHC and its constituency had been profoundly concerned that support for secessionist activity in Jammu and Kashmir would be downscaled in the wake of the Lahore dialogue between Vajpayee and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Now, the direct involvement of the Pakistan Army in the Kargil intrusions has sent a larger signal of support to anti-India organisations in the Kashmir Valley.

A special session of the APHC's executive committee, held in Srinagar on May 27, attacked India's defensive operations in Kargil, claiming that its "unwarranted use of air and ground power has amplified the prospects that peace in this entire region will be put in peril," Interestingly, it suggested that insurgents of Kashmiri origin, rather than Pakistan irregulars and troops, were holding ground in Kargil. "Now that the air force too has been called in to supplement ground troops in order to crush Kas hmiri militants," the APHC statement read, "the Kashmir issue has assumed an ominous dimension in the context of peace and security of the South Asian region." The executive committee condemned the Indian Air Force's bombardment of uninhabited heights in the Kargil area but was predictably silent on Pakistan's shelling of Indian towns and villages.

Combat in Kargil appears to have helped cement the fissures within the APHC over its future political course, at least in the short term. On April 18, pro-Pakistan leader Abdul Gani had called for dialogue with mainstream political organisations, which w ould lead to a joint resolution on the future of Jammu and Kashmir. The basic thrust of this dialogue, Gani said, would be "the lasting resolution to the dispute in accordance with the aims and aspirations of the people." All sections of Kashmir's societ y, he argued, had to be involved in "initiating a genuine political activity." "If (former Chief Minister) Ghulam Mohammad Shah, Congress leaders Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Mehbooba Sayeed, and for that matter even the Communist Party of India (Marxist)'s Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami and the N.C. are interested in the resolution of the dispute, we should rise to the occasion and address the issue," he said.

After the Army sealed the Srinagar airport, tourists stranded in the town look for alternative means of transport.

The APHC's recently re-elected chairman and Jamaat-e-Islami leader Sayyid Ali Shah Geelani had also shown signs of being under pressure from other APHC constituents in April. Shortly after Chief Minister Abdullah called for the APHC to participate in ele ctoral politics and prove its mass credentials, Geelani offered to do so "if seven lakh Indian soldiers are withdrawn from Kashmir." This was a marked departure from the APHC's historic stand that elections would only be relevant under United Nations sup ervision, and as part of a broader resolution of Jammu and Kashmir's future. At a May 5 rally, Geelani rapidly shifted back to his earlier stand, calling for a poll boycott. Although other APHC constituents went along with the call, there was more than a little muttering in the wings. The Kargil developments will help Geelani secure his flanks.

Mainstream political figures appear to have had nothing at all to say about the fighting in Kargil. Abdullah has, true to form, attacked Pakistan's aggression, but other N.C. figures have maintained a studied silence on recent events. No major political figure bar the Chief Minister has even sought to visit the combat zone, and there has been no effort to bring about a coherent political debate on what meaning this summer's events will have for the State. "The only phone calls I get from politicians," s ays one senior police official wryly, "are to ask just when the airport might reopen so they could fly out. They are all concerned the war might escalate, but only because they think their houses in Srinagar might just get bombed."

"Let's face it," says Tarigami, "no one here or anywhere else in India has taken events in Jammu and Kashmir with anything like the seriousness they deserve over the last two years: not politicians, not bureaucrats, not the Army, nor the press. There is a need for a larger dialogue on just where the State is headed, and what needs to be done. At the moment, no one is talking about it at all." When the fighting is over in Kargil, political issues will have to be engaged with, issues which cannot be resol ved in Army Operations Rooms or the corridors of the Ministry of Defence. If the impact that the Kargil war will have on politics in Jammu and Kashmir remains unaddressed, the price for this summer's events will have to be paid long after the last Paki stani post on the mountain heights is obliterated.

Playing with fire in Kargil

PRAFUL BIDWAI cover-story

New Delhi and Islamabad have embarked on a misadventure in Kargil. Their brinkmanship has an escalation potential built into it, hawkish propaganda and pious intentions notwithstanding.

IT is not for nothing that strategic "experts" advising states have been called "Witch-doctors of the Twentieth Century". These worshippers of raw power, genuflectors before weapons of mass destruction, and paid priests of the death industry play a perni cious role in first transforming political problems into "security" issues and then goading governments to use force to resolve them. The witch-doctor's historic function is to provide expedient rationalisations, ex-post apologies and snake-oil remedies for the use of military force.

In India, most such "experts" are as shameless apologists for the Bomb who are unembarrassed by their own illogic, inconsistency or ignorance. They tailor and distort facts to suit predetermined ends and fill knowledge-gaps with ill-informed speculation. A stark example of such fact-free "expertise" is the smug prediction of a well-known hawk on the front page of a national daily on May 27 that the Kargil conflict cannot possibly escalate because Pakistan, aware of the "superiority of Indian air power", would not dare take on India, and because "any Pakistani intrusion will compound the violation of the Simla pact." That very day, within hours of appearance of this "analysis", Pakistan shot down two planes of the Indian Air Force.

Kargil thoroughly exposes the fallacies of this thinking. A dynamic of escalation was built into it from the start. Given the intelligence agencies' failure and the Defence Ministry's initial failure to vacate the claimed intrusion, progressively higher levels of force were deployed by the Army. The decisive change took place when New Delhi started to use air power on May 26 - for the first time in 27 years at that border.

This introduced a new element of speed and mobility - and hence reduced the room for control. When you have aircraft flying at the speed of sound, even a little deviation from the correct flight-path or target-line risks straying across the zig-zag borde r. The high scope for human error is compounded by the generic problem of low kill-rates of aircraft-launched rockets and bombs. The best of pilots in the best of air forces make mistakes. Given the fact that the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir is un demarcated on the ground, and that there is wide scope for ambiguity about airspace violations, air strikes greatly increase the probability of retaliation and counter-retaliation.

A second element driving escalation was the military raising its own weight in decision-making and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government allowing purely military calculations greater play. This happened at the instance of Defence Minister George Fern andes, according to insiders in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). The transition to the rhetoric of "war", "war-like" situations, "enemy" calculation, and so on, was quick.

At work in the Kargil conflict is a complex dynamic driven by mutual India-Pakistan suspicion and distrust on a range of issues, unresolved, deep, differences over Kashmir, insecurities about each other's military capacities and intentions, opacity in st rategic and foreign policy-making and in sharing pertinent information with each other and with the public, and above all, domestic political factors, particularly the severe crisis of legitimacy which both governments face.

Apart from exposing the BJP-led coalition's incompetence and its inept and ad hoc decision-making, the Kargil crisis further highlights three issues: the perils of the crossing of the nuclear threshold in South Asia exactly one year ago; the BJP's reckle ss action in internationalising the Kashmir issue; and the fragility of the Lahore process, in particular of the extremely limited agreements signed on February 21.

WHAT is special about the Kargil crisis? This confrontation began in early May when the Indian Army first detected the presence of what it called armed "infiltrators", or Mujahideen guerillas allegedly backed by Pakistan, near Kargil and Drass. Such cros s-border forays have been routine for years, as are exchanges of heavy artillery fire. More than 350 such exchanges were reported in less than six months after the nuclear tests. What is new about the present case is the large number of guerillas crossin g the border (officially estimated first at 300 and later at 680, and unofficially at 1,000) and their success in penetrating 7 km into Indian territory and establishing relatively well-equipped camps over an area reportedly as large as 150-200 sq km. Ap parently, the Army's routine operations failed to dislodge the militants.

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Army sources say that this is the first time in 50 years that India faced a virtual occupation of its territory near its western border, however small. Why the Army allowed the situation to aggravate and reach this point remains unexplained. There is ver y little transparency in the way Indian officialdom has behaved. It refuses to share full information with the public, give convincing evidence in support of its claims, or provide an explanation as to why intelligence failures occurred and who was respo nsible for them. There is little evidence that the government really thought through the implications of the air strikes. The decision was taken on the same day when an Army spokesman was talking about a three-month-long ground operation.

In the absence of full and verifiable information, the only inference that can be drawn is that the decision was taken in an ad hoc fashion before the government had fully exhausted the available diplomatic and political options. If, as The Indian Exp ress alleges (May 28), the Border Security Force had warned it of incursions from across the border as early as January, it passes comprehension why it did nothing to defuse the crisis. Why was a special emissary not sent to Pakistan? Why did Prime M inister A.B. Vajpayee delay calling Nawaz Sharif till the very end? Why were efforts not made to alert other states of the claimed incursions?

Now that an opportunity has opened up for diplomacy through Sartaj Aziz's likely visit, New Delhi must do all it can to rectify this error and pursue all non-military avenues to vacate the incursion in Kargil.

No responsible government could have launched a large-scale Kargil operation without taking into consideration the scope for strategic misperception and miscalculation, besides the probability of escalation. The history of India-Pakistan rivalry is reple te with miscalculation. In 1965, for instance, Ayub Khan thought that merely parachuting troops into Kashmir would trigger a popular rebellion against India. This started a bitter war which Pakistan did not win.

In 1986-87, a routine Indian military exercise ("Operation Brasstacks") went out of control. Pakistan's Generals read some of its manoeuvres as threatening and deeply offensive. An eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation ensued.

The most serious such crisis occurred in 1990 when another military exercise spun out of control. Islamabad apparently felt threatened enough to want to "brandish the nuclear sword" in an indirect and oblique fashion. It reportedly lined up trucks at the Kahuta enrichment plant to indicate demonstratively its willingness to escalate the confrontation to the nuclear level. The crisis was defused only when the United States sent Robert Gates to New Delhi and Islamabad, urging restraint.

If Vajpayee, Fernandes, Advani & Co. thought they would somehow defeat Pakistan's effort to put Kashmir on the global agenda by launching air strikes, they were mistaken. The strikes have only added visibility to the confrontation and left a powerful imp ression of the volatility of the Kashmir issue through global media coverage. The pictures of wretchedly poor refugees fleeing the bombed-out moonscapes of Kargil and Drass are unlikely to go away from the viewer's memory: they are more disturbing in som e ways than similar footage from parts of Kosovo. A year ago, the BJP with its machismo had succeeded in internationalising the Kashmir issue by explicitly linking it with nuclear weapons - in Advani's famous May 18 speech.

THE present stand-off raises three serious questions: Was the Pakistan Army or its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency involved in the "infiltration"? If so, did it act independently or with the civilian administration's concurrence? Why did all the mutual-consultation and confidence-building measures agreed upon by India and Pakistan to avoid conflict fail? And what determined the timing of the Indian air strikes?

If the Pakistani Army or the ISI was indeed involved, that would cast doubts both over the viability of limited "good faith" agreements such as those reached at Lahore and the ability of the Sharif government to prevail over the Army which is considered the final arbiter of all decisions in Pakistan. Fernandes made (on May 28) a curious distinction between Nawaz Sharif and the ISI, on the one hand, and the Army, on the other, and virtually exonerated the former. It is hard to say if Fernandes had eviden ce on which to base this rather bizarre demarcation, or whether he was following his own devious agenda in giving a clean chit to the ISI, of all agencies. In any case, given the multiplicity of power centres in Pakistan, it is conceivable that agreement s such as the one at Lahore could be sabotaged by one or the other of them. They may not have lasting value in and of themselves, unless they are given concrete, specific expression.

Secondly, the crisis exposes the limitations, even flimsiness, of the substantive (as distinct from symbolic) aspect of the Lahore process. The Lahore accords were not really about serious arms restraint and control. They were at best about the intent to improve relations and about transparency of a very limited kind - transparency through a very dirty looking glass.

For instance, India and Pakistan did not agree to bilateral measures to reduce the danger of nuclear war, but only to (unspecified) "national measures" to reduce "accidental or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons." They agreed not to suspend their nuclea r and missile programmes, but only to inform each other of test flights, and so on. India and Pakistan did not sign a no-test pact either. They agreed "to continue to abide by their respective unilateral moratorium on conducting further nuclear test expl osions - unless either side decides that extraordinary events have jeopardised its supreme interests." This is taking back with the left hand what is given out with the right hand.

Thirdly, it is plausible that the timing of the Indian decision to bring air power had something to do either with the temptation of the Vajpayee government (which has itself lost Parliament's confidence) to outmanoeuvre domestic opponents, or with inter nal rivalries in the Cabinet over Kashmir, which date back to the time when Advani demanded - and got - the Jammu and Kashmir portfolio transferred from the PMO to his Ministry.

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The ruling coalition is in deep trouble as it faces elections. The Congress(I) is on the upswing with the return of Sonia Gandhi as president. Although the ruling coalition did not will the Kargil crisis or bring about the infiltration, it probably recko ned that its escalation might yield it some short-run dividends.

Such considerations have played a role in the past - in 1986-87 and in the early 1990s. They also explain why the Opposition in India is not unconditionally supporting the government on Kargil and criticises it for mishandling the issue. This is partly c ompounded by the lack of transparency of official policy and action, and partly by glaring intelligence failures and bungling by the Defence Ministry.

In Pakistan, the Sharif government has brutally cracked down on critical journalists and public-spirited non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and women's groups as it desperately seeks a figleaf of legitimacy through Islam to cover up its monumental cor ruption and misgovernance.

Kargil totally undermines the assumption that nuclearisation has imparted stability or maturity to India-Pakistan relations, or reduced the danger of conventional conflict. The assumption flowed in the first place from a dogma in Cold War thinking - an a rticle of faith that invests nuclear weapons with attributes which they simply do not possess. More nuclear weapons and weapon-states make nuclear war more likely. Possession of nuclear weapons does not prevent states from going to conventional war with one another. The former Soviet Union and China, both nuclear states, fought a bitter conventional war across the Ussuri for many years. Nuclear deterrence is itself flawed and fallible. As Gen. Lee Butler, who commanded the U.S. nuclear arsenal for long years, says, it is not nuclear deterrence, nor the "rational" calculation by hard-headed generals of "mutually assured destruction", that prevented a catastrophe in the Cold War. It was pure luck, "the Grace of God".

Will India and Pakistan be blessed by such grace? The Kargil crisis puts a big question-mark over this. It should also put paid to the dangerous delusion that India and Pakistan have become more secure after nuclearisation.

WAR IN KARGIL

cover-story

The infiltration by well-armed Pakistani irregulars and troops across the Line of Control and their entrenchment in the Kargil sector have created a war-like situation in Kashmir.

ON May 5, as summer set in on the Kargil heights, the 121 Brigade sent out its first reconnaissance patrol into the Kaksar area. The patrol's job was essentially to see whether the snow had retreated enough to allow troops to reoccupy their high-altitude summer positions along the Line of Control. Lieutenant V. Kalia and five soldiers went out into the mountains, never to return. Radio Skardu in Pakistan reported that Kalia was captured, but there has been no word of him since. Neither have the bodies o f the other members of the patrol been sighted. Days later, a second patrol made up of a Lieutenant and eight soldiers vanished in the Batalik area. It later transpired that the officer and one soldier died bravely covering the retreat of the other six s oldiers.

It was to take the best part of a fortnight for the Indian Army to realise just how serious the situation was. Fresh sightings of tents and makeshift rock and ice bunkers kept coming in, until it became clear that Pakistani irregulars and troops were occ upying upwards of 70 positions on heights along the National Highway. Two helicopters engaged in low-altitude surveillance were hit by ground fire on May 14, while a third narrowly escaped damage. Reports emerged of Pakistan having moved units of a briga de up the Mian Langpa gully to supply positions on the Indian side of the Line of Control in Chorbat-La and Turtok. Similar supply routes were active into the Muskoh Valley, which leads into the Kashmir Valley.

An array of Indian artillery guns in the Kargil sector prepares to pound positions held by Pakistani infiltrators.

Defence Minister George Fernandes, for one, was unperturbed by these developments. In an early statement, he assured Indian citizens that the Pakistani occupation would be vacated within 48 hours, an assertion that can only be described as monumentally o btuse. 15 Corps Commander Lieutenant General Kishan Pal, a highly regarded soldier, was less blase. Nonetheless, he described the occupied areas as "unheld", arguing that the heights occupied by the Pakistani irregulars and troops were of little strategi c importance. "If I don't take notice of them," he told Frontline, "it will make no difference. If they come off the heights in the summer, they will be slaughtered. And if they don't leave them in the winter, they will freeze to death."

This institutional mentality generated disorganised scrambles to attack the Pakistan-held positions, leading to heavy casualties. Irregulars and troops on the heights picked off Indian soldiers as they pushed their way up the mountains to cut off Pakista ni resupply routes, hoping to starve the positions of ammunition and food. Then, Pakistani irregulars received artillery support from across the border. By the third week of May, massive artillery duels had broken out along the length of the Line of Cont rol in the Kargil area. Troop morale fell, as soldiers felt they were being pushed up the mountains without the existence of a broader paradigm of how the Indian Army would inflict corresponding damage on Pakistan.

In Hunzi Ghund in Pakistani territory, Pakistani soldiers gather pieces of an Indian MiG-27 jet fighter.

It was only on May 25 that the high-powered Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) met for the first time, following desperate appeals by a team of Jammu and Kashmir officials led by Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah. The visit followed hard intelligence that a group of at least 70 insurgents had used the Muskoh Valley route to cross into Sonamarg, and from there to Doda. By then it was also clear that conventional infantry tactics had proved inadequate to evacuate the threat from Pakistan. While troops had, displaying exceptional valour, succeeded in pushing their way up mountain ridges, resupply lines remained open in several areas. Three brigades of additional troops had been moved in by then, and plans to send in a reserve division were in place, but it was clear that unacclimatised troops moving up the mountainside would suffer unacceptable losses. The decision to use air power seems to have been made at this first meeting of the CCS.

THE war in Kargil, despite the use of combat aircraft, seems set to be a long one. Pakistani irregulars and troops have been vacated from lower heights in several areas, but resupply lines elsewhere remain open. And although the Indian Army has occupied several ridge-lines in the Drass, Kaksar and Batalik areas, the Muskoh Valley, Turtok and Chorbat-La remain problematic. Officials estimate that some 300 irregulars and troops have been killed, but there has been no physical verification of these claims so far. The Indian Army initially believed that some 350 men held positions on the Indian side of the Line of Control, but those figures have been revised upwards on more than one occasion. And, as the recovery of the identification papers of Abdul Ayub of the Fourth Northern Light Infantry brigade illustrates, the Pakistan Army continues to be directly committed in Kargil.

What shape events will take from here is unclear. There is a need for introspection on why Kargil snowballed into a grave embarrassment for India in the first place. "The real problem will come once we get the Pakistani forces out," said one Army officer . "We're now going to have to hold these heights through the winter. It will be like a second Siachen."

An Indian Army helicopter on a reconnaissance mission in the Drass sector.

Contrary to the Defence Ministry's claims, there is evidence of a serious intelligence failure leading to the Kargil conflict. And in a larger sense, Kargil appears to be just one event set off by the forces unleashed after last year's nuclear tests at P okhran, with more to come in the not-too-distant future.

AZHAR SHAFI MIR, a Hizb-ul-Mujahideen operative, was arrested by Border Security Force (BSF) troopers in the Poonch area on December 20, 1998. What he told his BSF interrogators was enough to arouse an unusual interest in both the Intelligence Bureau (I. B.) and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Mir said that he had tired of a long career as a Hizb-ul-Mujahideen foot soldier and had set up shop as an auto-rickshaw driver in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. His vast experience i n Jammu and Kashmir, however, led Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to push him back into the State. In mid-1998, he was picked up on fabricated charges of rash and negligent driving. Mir was now offered a simple choice: to spend time i n jail or to head back into India.

By August 1998, Mir was completing his training in a camp on the Munshera-Gilgit road. The camp, he said, housed 110 Hizb-ul-Mujahideen recruits, of whom some 30 were Pakistani and Afghan nationals. On September 1, 1998, five sections from this camp were launched across the Line of Control at Athmuqam. Each section was armed, among other things, with a heavy machine-gun, four grenade launchers, rocket-propelled grenades, and sniper rifles fitted with night-vision devices. Mir, afraid of the waiting guns of Indian forces, led his section back into Pakistan. He was forced back again in October across the Lolab Valley, this time with a stern warning that cowardice would mean death.

An Indian Army post in Drass, which was destroyed by a Pakistani mortar.

Mir's group was in itself unexceptional, but its objectives were startling. It was tasked, in the words of his interrogation report, "to cause extensive damage to the Bandipore-Gurez road, and to ensure the isolation of the Army Division in Gurez so that a full-fledged front could be opened against them. Similarly, the group would cause extensive damage to the Kangan-Leh road to prevent vital supplies from reaching forces in the area." This left little to doubt. It served terrorists in the Gurez area li ttle to cut off the Indian Army's 28 Division, since those soldiers would continue operating against them locally. The objective, clearly stated, was to prevent reinforcements from being moved from the Gurez area and elsewhere into somewhere on the Kanga n-Leh road.

Somewhere on the Kangan-Leh road could only have meant the Drass and Kargil areas. Maps of these areas had been found on the body of Ali Mohammad Dar, a Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander killed in Srinagar by the Jammu and Kashmir Police's Special Operations Group on August 9, 1998. And there were other reasons to arrive at this conclusion. Intelligence operatives based in Leh had, in October, passed on reports that 350-odd irregulars were being trained in two camps in the general area of Olthingthang, Pakis tan's forward headquarters in the Kargil sector. The Leh reports specifically stated that the groups were to be infiltrated into the Kargil area in April this year. Shortly afterwards, further reports emerged from Indian intelligence in Leh warning that Remotely Piloted Vehicles, airborne surveillance platforms, were being used by Pakistan to monitor the Leh-Kargil area.

This body of information was received by the Ministry of Defence in the third week of October 1998. The Ministry's bureaucrats were evidently unmoved. Through the winter the RAW's Aviation Research Centre (ARC) carried out no regular surveillance flights along the Kargil sector, for reasons it best understands. Nor did the Indian Air Force send up aircraft for high-altitude reconnaissance on the snow-bound mountains. The Army, in turn, did not begin Wide Area Surveillance Operations, using its Cheetah h elicopters, until it became clear that Pakistani troops and irregulars had indeed occupied heights along some 250 km of the Srinagar-Leh National Highway. In the light of the intelligence information available, the failure even to monitor the Kargil sect or with special intensity seems inexcusable.

At the Bhisiana Air Force base in Bhatinda, military honours for Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja, whose body was handed over to Indian officials on May 28.

TROOPS elsewhere in Jammu and Kashmir did, indeed, sense trouble. Highly placed sources told Frontline that the possibility of a limited conventional engagement with Pakistani forces was discussed during the war game exercises that the Army's 15 C orps carried out in February. Indeed, troops of the 19 Division moved up the heights in Uri by March, an unusually early period for such mobilisation. It is unclear whether the 121 Brigade in Kargil was instructed to execute such manoeuvres and it failed to do so, or the need for such mobilisation was simply not felt. The scapegoating of the 3 Division's Corps Commander, V.S. Budhwar, and of 121 Brigade Commander Surinder Singh will serve no purpose. Contrary to reports in The Asian Age, both rem ain at their posts, but their operational authority has been curtailed. Nonetheless, serious questions remain to be answered.

While no one expects India's security establishment to act as an oracle, the fact is that it should have expected trouble. Northern Command chief Lieutenant General H.M. Khanna made the extraordinary admission on May 29 that Pakistan's aggression in Karg il was "unexpected". This, he said, was because Pakistan had been "talking peace while preparing for war". A Cover Story in Frontline (March 26, 1999) on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of the summit meeting in Lahore in February be tween Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Atal Behari Vajpayee had argued that expectations of an emerging peace were flawed. The Lahore summit, Frontline recorded, had "set in play forces whose course is yet unknown. But it seems increasingly improb able that this play will have a happy ending."

Flight Lieutenant Nachiketa of the IAF, in custody in Pakistan after the MiG-27 he was piloting was brought down by a Pakistani missile.

The article further noted that "most security officials in Jammu and Kashmir are deeply concerned about the summer to come. Intelligence officials point to nightmare scenarios, including the possibility of large-scale massacres of Hindus in Jammu leading to communal retaliation, and an escalation of exchanges across the Line of Control escalating to a point where international intervention becomes inevitable." Officials whom Frontline spoke to this spring were responding to an analysis of intelli gence information, the detailed content of which has now broadly become available. Their bosses in New Delhi were presumably too busy to pay attention to field reports.

THE prospect of a renewed Pakistani attempt to force events in Jammu and Kashmir had sharpened ever since the ill-conceived nuclear tests at Pokhran last year. The tests ensured that any generalised escalation along the Line of Control would bring about international intervention, Pakistan's long-held objective. India's strategic options in Jammu and Kashmir and its ability to make an adequate conventional response to Pakistan's offensive were thus sharply limited. Pakistan could now act secure in the k nowledge that any military engagement along the Line of Control would work to its benefit. Any military reverses it would suffer would be minimal, since India would not be able to engage the Pakistan Army outside Jammu and Kashmir.

On May 18, 1998, shortly after the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government's first major policy meeting on Jammu and Kashmir, Union Home Minister L.K. Advani made explicit a linkage between the Pokhran tests and India's strategic position. Perhaps no India n politician has made quite such a profound error of judgment on Jammu and Kashmir. Advani argued that India's "decisive step to become a nuclear weapon state has brought about a qualitative new state in India-Pakistan relations, particularly in find ing a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem. Islamabad has to realise the change in the geo-strategic situation in the region and the world."

Union Home Minister L.K. Advani. Shortly after Pokhran-II, he made a statement explicitly linking India's nuclear status and the Kashmir issue.

It did. The expensive and bloody campaign in Kargil is the result of Pakistan's cogent comprehension of just what the Pokhran tests meant for the future of Jammu and Kashmir. Indian soldiers are now paying with their lives for the crimes of a disorganise d and effete security establishment. And as this summer goes on, more lives could be lost. Security planners are concerned about the prospect of a second Pakistani incursion in the Uri-Gurez region, where troop strengths have been weakened following rede ployment in Kargil. Artillery fire has been exchanged in these areas; there have also been exchanges of small arms fire along the international border to the south. There is also the prospect of a serious escalation in violence within the State if larger numbers of Afghan and Pakistani terrorists are pushed in. Finally, with the Lok Sabha elections coming up, if more combat aircraft are lost the Union Government will be under tremendous pressure to retaliate against Pakistan.

The self-proclaimed defender of national unity, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has led India to its most serious crisis since the war of 1948. The end of the fighting in Kargil most certainly will not mean the beginning of peace.

The political and diplomatic background

JOHN CHERIAN cover-story

MANY experts had predicted that the conventional military superiority India had over Pakistan would be negated once Pakistan conducted nuclear tests. Last year, after both countries declared themselves nuclear powers, there were high-casualty border clas hes using heavy artillery. The exchange of fire killed a large number civilians on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir. There were indications that the Pakistani side had become more confident after the nuclear tests.

Pakistan Army chief General Parvez Musharraf stated earlier this year, while on a visit to the Pakistani positions on the Siachen Glacier, that "there is zero chance of war" between the two countries. Evidently, the Pakistani side was confident that give n its nuclear prowess it could afford to accelerate its support for militancy and insurgency in Kashmir without risking a war.

Indian Army chief General V.P. Malik, speaking after his Pakistani counterpart's views on war in the subcontinent were published, did not agree. Speaking to reporters on February 10, Malik said: "Having crossed the nuclear threshold does not mean that a conventional war is out." One of the important reasons why the Pakistani side has upped the ante this time by sending heavily armed infiltrators into Kargil and other parts of Kashmir may have been the impression that a conventional war between the two c ountries, given the changed circumstances after May 1998, is out of the question.

The Pakistan cricket team toured India. Pakistan had started selling sugar and onions to India. It was seriously considering the feasibility of selling power to India. The Pakistani side, considering the sale of surplus power, was headed by a senior Army officer. All this and the historic trip made by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to Lahore in February and the bonhomie between him and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif apparently lulled the Indian Government into believing that the borders bet ween the two countries would be quiet compared to previous years. Some people in the Indian Government are still giving Sharif and the Pakistani political establishment the benefit of the doubt. Defence Minister George Fernandes has said that the Sharif Government "did not have a major role" in the conspiracy to push infiltrators into Kashmir. He has instead blamed the Pakistan Army, suggesting that it acted independently of the Government.

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Many people in Pakistan, however, think otherwise. Since Sharif's return to power, he has systematically gone about removing or purging officials and functionaries opposed to him in the armed forces. The current Army chief reportedly owes his position to Sharif. Fernandes' interpretation has been coincidentally echoed by analysts of the United States who are close to the United States State Department. For example, Selig Harrison, writing in The New York Times, noted that Islamic militants in Pakistan had for some time been wielding quite a strong influence on the intelligence agencies. "I don't think that Pakistani forces are under unified control," opined Harrison. Infiltrating larg e numbers of guerrillas into Kargil, according to him, could have been done without the knowledge of the Sharif Government. Another U.S. expert on South Asia, George Perkovich, however, has discounted the possibility that Sharif was unaware of the Kargil infiltration. "Sharif has consolidated his power enough and the Army chief is handpicked by him. I cannot believe that he did not know."

INDIAN officials initially said that up to 700 militants, most of them battle-hardened Mujahideen who had seen action in Afghanistan, crossed over during the early winter thaw and took up positions near the towns of Drass and Kargil overlooking the key L eh-Srinagar highway. Indian Army spokesmen have been insisting that the Pakistani Army, besides providing logistical support, has been sending its own regulars.

As large-scale fighting erupted near Drass-Kargil-Batalik, it became evident that the number of infiltrators was much larger than that suggested by earlier official Indian estimates. The infiltrators, according to Defence Ministry sources, were also well entrenched in the heights overlooking the Leh-Kargil highway at heights ranging from 15,000 to 17,000 ft. There was intelligence failure on a colossal scale on the Indian side. The Indian Army has started blaming the intelligence agencies for the blunde r.

According to informed sources, Army headquarters had told Vajpayee that it would take at least two to three months to flush out the insurgents through ground operations alone. With the general elections not far away, this scenario was not acceptable to t he Government. So, for the first time, the Government requisitioned the large-scale use of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in peace time for counter-insurgency operations. The Defence Ministry, in its statement, said that air action was taken to discourage Pa kistan from extending its operations further. "Delayed reaction would have called for a more severe action, possibly increasing the areas as well as the scope of action," it said.

The Defence Ministry also asserted that if the insurgents were not evicted, the alignment of the LoC would be altered to the advantage of Pakistan and that the Srinagar-Leh highway would be under threat if decisive action was not taken immediately. The M inistry also warned Islamabad that "appropriate action" would be taken if "there is direct or indirect" interference by the Pakistan Army or Air Force.

Questions have been raised about the rationale behind the deployment of the Indian Air Force in what is basically a high-risk venture. It is well-known that the insurgents have in their arsenal sophisticated weaponry such as the Stinger hand-held anti-ai rcraft missile, which was used with devastating effect during the Afghan war against the Russian Air Force. The Drass-Kargil-Batalik sector boasts of one of the toughest terrains in the world.

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Indian Defence Ministry sources asserted that they would not be provoked to escalate the conflict and would "exercise restraint". Vajpayee has already had two telephonic conversations with Sharif. The latter's offer to send his Foreign Minister, Sartaj A ziz, to New Delhi to try and defuse the tense situation was accepted by Vajpayee on May 31. Vajpayee has, however, refused to accede to Sharif's suggestion that India stop its air strikes in Kargil so that peace talks could begin urgently. Vajpayee has a lso summarily rejected a proposal by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to send international observers to Kashmir. Rejecting the offer to send a special envoy to defuse the tension, Vajpayee said that India would continue its military operation s until all the intruders were flushed out.

The Indian Defence Ministry has said that it has achieved considerable success after launching "Operation Vijay" on May 25. Pakistan Army regulars and other intruders from two positions in Batalik and one position in Drass have been pushed out. But India n Army sources admit privately that removing all the well-entrenched intruders is going to take more time.

AN all-party meeting attended by 32 political parties on May 29 extended full support to the Government in its efforts to flush out the infiltrators. However, during the meeting Fernandes was severely criticised by many party leaders for his assertion th at Sharif and the ISI were not involved in the events along the LoC. Congress(I) leader Pranab Mukherjee said that Fernandes' statement was "unnecessary and uncalled for". The Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) demanded that the caret aker Vajpayee government should either disown or explain the Defence Minister's "irresponsible" statement. CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet asked the BJP-led government to act in a "restrained and responsible manner" on the Kargil issue " as neither the Indian nor the Pakistani people want a war at this juncture". He added that the Vajpayee government had reacted "very late" with regard to the Pakistani infiltration into Kargil.

Fronts and challenges

EVEN as the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) firmed up a new pro-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) front in Tamil Nadu, roping in the erstwhile allies of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) - the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress (TRC) - there were signs of a formidable challenge to it emerging from a broad-based front of secular and democratic parties. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communis t Party of India (CPI) took the initiative to bring the secular parties together.

The fall of the BJP-led Government in April - when the AIADMK, a constituent of the coalition, turned against the Government and the DMK, then in the Opposition, supported it - saw the collapse of the fronts led by these two parties, necessitating the fo rmation of new alignments for the coming Lok Sabha elections.

The general secretary of the CPI (M), Harkishan Singh Surjeet, who was in Chennai on May 27 and 28, held separate discussions with Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) president G.K. Moopanar and AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha. Surjeet's visit was to guide the State secretariat of his party in evolving its poll strategy. The CPI's general secretary A.B. Bardhan and national secretary D. Raja were also in Chennai on May 26 to participate in the deliberations of the State executive of the party. According t o Surjeet, "Anybody who can contribute to the defeat of the BJP will have a role to play and should contribute." He described the AIADMK as a secular party "as its mass base is secular". Bardhan said that the CPI considered the AIADMK a secular party bec ause it had done well to get out of the BJP's orbit. As for charges of corruption against the AIADMK leadership, he argued that even in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections this was not an issue. Although it was talked about it did not cut much ice, he said.

Thus, the way has been virtually cleared for the State units of the CPI and the CPI(M) to go in for an alliance with the AIADMK. According to CPI State secretary R. Nallakannu, the executive authorised the State secretariat to hold talks with the CPI(M), the TMC, the Janata Dal and other anti-BJP and democratic parties to form a broad-based front in order to take on the BJP-DMK combine. CPI(M) State secretariat member G. Ramakrishnan said that his party's "central task" was to defeat the communalism of the BJP. Describing the elections as "a fight between communalism and secularism", he said: "Any other issue is secondary."

Both the CPI and the CPI(M) were highly critical of the DMK. The CPI(M) State committee, which also met in Chennai on May 28 under Ramakrishnan's presidentship, denounced the DMK for "totally reversing its stand against communalism and taking the worst o pportunistic stand by voting in support of the BJP-led Government and also in aligning with the BJP front." The State committee resolution added, "The stand of the DMK goes against its preaching of self-respect and the principles of Periyar (E.V. Ramaswa my, the founder of the Dravidian movement) and Anna (DMK founder C.N. Annadurai) and is harmful to secular, democratic movement." In Surjeet's view, the mass base of both the DMK and the AIADMK is secular but the DMK has suddenly jumped onto the BJP band wagon without any reason.

What is holding up the finalisation of an anti-BJP front is the Congress(I)'s delay in deciding on an alliance with the AIADMK. Besides, another secular party with a substantial following in the State, the TMC, has reservations about joining hands with t he "corrupt" AIADMK. Moopanar has told Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi that his party will have nothing to do with the Congress(I) if it aligns with the AIADMK. TMC general secretary Peter Alphonse said, "We will support neither communalism nor corrup tion. We will work out our strategy accordingly."

Sources in the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee(I) indicated that the party was keen to ally with the AIADMK and it hoped to persuade the TMC to have "seat adjustments" with the AIADMK as part of a broad front. The Left parties are also mounting pressure on the TMC to give up its rigid anti-AIADMK stand.

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The CPI(M) and the CPI have ruled out the formation of a third front in Tamil Nadu as envisaged by the TMC. The TMC would like this front to comprise the TMC, the CPI(M), the CPI, Puthiya Thamilagam and other secular parties, but not the AIADMK. In the L eft parties' assessment, a three-way fight, isolating Jayalalitha, would be only to the advantage of the DMK-BJP combine.

Jayalalitha, for her part, had discussions with a number of parties that are opposed to the BJP, such as the Janata Dal, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party. She also held talks with the leaders of a breakaway group of the PMK.

Earlier, the Congress(I) had deputed Sharad Pawar to Chennai for "preliminary" discussions with Jayalalitha on a possible alliance with the AIADMK. But the Congress(I) leader's subsequent revolt against party president Sonia Gandhi and the inner-party cr isis that followed hampered further moves in this direction.

Three minority organisations have also pledged their support to the emerging anti-BJP front: the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and the Indian National League (INL), both political parties, and the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK), a non-pol itical organisation. The IUML has declared its support to the AIADMK; M.A. Latheef, the general secretary of the INL, a breakaway group of the IUML and an ally of the DMK until recently, has expressed its readiness to join the AIADMK-led front. TMMK pres ident M.K. Jawahirullah has said that his organisation will support a Sonia Gandhi-led front.

Although Puthiya Thamilagam, which has a Dalit mass base, is undecided, its president, Dr. K. Krishnasamy, has said his party will oppose any front of which the BJP is a constituent.

AT the other end of the spectrum, DMK president and Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi took further steps to firm up his party's alliance with the BJP and other former allies of the AIADMK. An interesting sidelight of these moves was a meeting between Karunan idhi and his arch rival for the last six years, MDMK general secretary Vaiko, at the former's residence on May 19. Vaiko, who was a popular leader of the DMK and was perceived to be close to Karunanidhi, formed the MDMK in early 1994 a few months after h is expulsion from the DMK. Describing the meeting as "significant and cordial", Vaiko said it was "like an estranged son visiting his father". The two leaders had "preliminary" discussions on the alliance and agreed to set up committees to discuss the mo dalities of seat-sharing. The PMK's founder leader S. Ramadoss did not envisage any problem in seat-sharing with the DMK.

Karunanidhi reiterated the view that Jayalalitha's corruption was more dangerous than communalism and said that the DMK's support to the BJP was "a logical continuation of its strategy to fight corruption". MDMK spokesman K.S. Radhakrishnan wondered how the Left parties could describe the AIADMK as a secular party since, he said, Jayalalitha supported the kar seva in Ayodhya when she was Chief Minister and allowed bricks to be sent for that purpose.

The resignation and after

The events that followed the revolt by Sharad Pawar and two other CWC members have made it clear that Sonia Gandhi has consolidated her pre-eminent position in the Congress(I).

WE are riding the wave of victory," Sonia Gandhi said on May 6 at a meeting of Congress(I) leaders from various parts of the country, who had gathered in New Delhi to discuss preparations for the Lok Sabha elections. Addressing her first important meetin g after the dissolution of the 12th Lok Sabha, the Congress(I) president asserted that the party's election plank of providing political stability and establishing a "cohesive, purposeful, one-party government" would prove to be a clear winner over the " bickering, quarrelsome" and "multi-headed monster" alliance that the Bharatiya Janata Party fielded.

Nineteen days later, on May 25, when the All India Congress Committee (AICC) held an urgent session to "welcome her back" after she withdrew her resignation as party president, Sonia Gandhi's demeanour had changed. No longer was it marked by the confiden ce of May 6. In its place there was a unique brand of aggression, which perhaps emanated from a sense of hurt and anger. Addressing the AICC, she said: "The very people who came before me a year back, pleading that I save the Congress, the very same pe ople today are seeking to create a climate of suspicion about my patriotism. The very same people are today seeking to plant seeds of doubt about me in the minds of my compatriots." She also said: "I stand before you today as a proud Congressperson, doub ly resolved to lead the fight for our beloved country. No longer shall we tolerate the negative forces that seek to target the dignity of a woman through calumny and falsehood." She observed that the events of the nine days that preceded the session shou ld help party persons to recognise the friends of the party; the political churning that took place on these days had to be converted into a new opportunity, she said.

The nine days that Sonia Gandhi referred to were characterised by a series of intra-party convulsions, which began with the revolt by three members of the Congress(I) Working Committee (CWC),- Sharad Pawar, P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar, challenging the pr ojection of her as the party's prime ministerial candidate, ostensibly on the grounds account of her foreign origin. This move resulted in the resignation of Sonia Gandhi from the presidentship of the Congress(I), apparently in a fit of righteous indigna tion, and the expulsion of the trio from the primary membership of the party for a period of six years.

In her resignation letter (prepared on May 15, according to senior leader Pranab Kumar Mukherjee, but delivered to the CWC on May 17), Sonia Gandhi stated that she was "pained by the lack of confidence (of some party leaders) in my ability to act in the best interests of the party and the country." In a direct reference to the nationality question, she stated that "although born in a foreign land I chose India as my country" and would remain an Indian "till my last breath". "India is my motherland, dear er to me than my own life."

HIGH drama followed the announcement of the resignation. It triggered a sensational agitation by the rest of the leadership and also the rank and file. The four Congress(I) Chief Ministers - Digvijay Singh of Madhya Pradesh, Sheila Dixit of Delhi, Ashok Gehlot of Rajasthan and Giridhar Gamang of Orissa - and AICC office-bearers and leaders of the Congress(I)'s front organisations, including the Youth Congress, sent in their resignations to "madam", saying that they did not want to "enjoy the fruits of o ffice" if she did not remain the party's president.

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Outside the AICC office and in front of 10 Janpath, Sonia Gandhi's residence, hundreds of party workers launched hunger-strikes and dharnas to "pressure" her into withdrawing her resignation; some party workers in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra at tempted to immolate themselves; and effigies of the three dissidents were burnt, accusing them of being hand in glove with the BJP and other anti-Sonia forces such as former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and controversial godman Chandraswami. Some ac tivists assaulted former party president Sitaram Kesri and former party vice-president Jitendra Prasada in front of the AICC office, accusing them of being agents of the dissidents although the two had rallied around Sonia Gandhi and castigated the "betr ayal" by Pawar and Co.

Pressure from the rank and file and the leadership and the expulsion of the three rebels on May 20, however, failed to make an immediate impact on Sonia Gandhi. (She informed the CWC members only on May 24 that she would reconsider her decision.) The rea son was that she was not convinced of the sincerity of many of the leaders who took up her defence. She reportedly castigated CWC members such as R.K. Dhawan and Rajesh Pilot, who failed to put up a strong defence for her when Pawar and Co. raised the na tionality question at the May 15 CWC meet. The fact that the CWC could not take a unanimous decision on the expulsion, with some leaders, including A.K. Antony and Kesri, raising procedural objections such as the need to give a show-cause notice, was als o not viewed positively by persons close to Sonia Gandhi, son Rahul included. The decision to expel the trio was finally taken on the strength of a majority vote.

According to several leaders, including AICC spokesperson Ajit Jogi, what made Sonia Gandhi change her mind was her concern about certain technical problems that would arise at the AICC session convened by the CWC members. The question of who should chai r the session in the absence of the party president created a divide between some CWC members and AICC office-bearers. Secretaries of the AICC, including Mani Shankar Aiyar and Ramesh Chennithala, who are considered close to 10 Janpath, warned against ma king "any alternative arrangements, even of an interim nature, as Sonia Gandhi is the sole, authentic and undisputable leader of the party irrespective of whether or not she holds any party post." Clearly, they were against looking for an alternative lea der. The anger displayed by party workers against Sitaram Kesri and Jitendra Prasada began to be directed also against other leaders who wanted to hold the session. This concretised in the form of a slogan, "No Sonia, no AICC", and in a sense consolidate d her pre-eminent role in the party. Sonia Gandhi apparently wanted to prevent an unsavoury situation at the AICC.

While this is the quasi-official version from the party headquarters, her detractors, including the expelled leaders and leaders of rival political parties such as the BJP, have described her resignation and the events that followed it as "stage-managed" and "orchestrated" to whip up sympathy in order to ensure Sonia Gandhi's total control over the Congress(I). Her loyalists, however, believe that the public display of emotions by party persons was the people's response to the malicious campaign against her.

Whatever the truth, the developments between May 15 and May 25 have reiterated some important facets of the internal organisational dynamics of the Congress(I). They indicated the clout Sonia Gandhi has gathered in the party organisation within a year of active politics. They also emphasised that the majority of Congress(I) leaders - Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh, Ghulam Nabi Azad, R.K. Dhawan and so on - were heavily dependent on Sonia Gandhi's mass appeal in advancing their political interests. Also, the Congress(I)'s convulsions have shown that notwithstanding the fact that leaders such as Antony and Pilot have a mass base and a soft corner for Pawar, they too have also accepted the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, essentially because she has come to re present the party organisation.

THE AICC session, which greeted Sonia Gandhi's return with great enthusiasm, also cautioned her against promoting a coterie. The censorious speeches made by Nagaland Chief Minister S.C. Jamir and former Uttar Pradesh Minister Ammar Rizvi and the resoundi ng reception that they got at the session were indicative of the mood. While Jamir asked Sonia to initiate discussions at various levels before arriving at important decisions, Rizvi pointed out that the leader's ultimate strength lay in the people, the ordinary worker. He said that Sonia Gandhi could forget this only at the cost of her own popularity and credibility. It was the first time that she received such friendly warnings in her one year as the leader.

Vital questions about the party's political prospects and Sonia Gandhi's own standing on the national political scene came up for discussions between May 15 and 25. The revolt of Pawar and Co. has certainly given greater strength to a campaign on Sonia G andhi's foreign origin, which was initiated by the BJP. In a sense, the charge that the three rebels are in league with the BJP and its allies on the issue sounds plausible. Notwithstanding Pawar's vehement denial (see interview), the fact remains that t he BJP's anti-Sonia campaign has gathered force in the background of the revolt.

This scenario is bound to affect the Congress(I)'s electoral prospects. However, Pranab Mukherjee feels that the "hurt caused by the BJP and the betrayers of the Congress(I) has endeared her more to the masses." He is of the view that the Congress(I) wou ld stand to benefit by the controversy. Mukherjee claimed that the expelled leaders had not harmed the organisational strength of the party in Maharashtra or in the northeastern States, the vote bases of Pawar and Sangma respectively.

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NOTWITHSTANDING these assertions, the departure of Pawar and Sangma is bound to impair the Congress(I)'s prospects in Maharashtra and the Northeast. Even in Bihar, Tariq Anwar's home state, the response to the debate on Sonia's foreign origin has reporte dly gone beyond the Congress(I)'s expectations. The alacrity with which the Congress(I) readmitted former Union Minister Suresh Kalmadi, who had left the party during the last Lok Sabha elections, is indicative of the party's felt need to bolster itself in the strongholds of the rebels (Kalmadi's support base is in Pune). According to sources close to Pawar, the Maratha leader had asked a private agency to conduct a comprehensive survey in his State on the nationality issue before raising the banner of revolt; more than 70 per cent of the respondents had rated Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin as a major security threat to the country, he said.

Pawar and Co. have announced the launch of their party, the Nationalist Indian Congress, at a convention in Mumbai on June 10. Despite allegations that he is colluding with the BJP, Pawar says that his primary concern is to unite all secular and regional forces against the BJP and the Sonia Congress to uphold the values of secularism, provide social justice, and eradicate of regional and social imbalances in development.

The convulsions have also impeded the finalisation of electoral alliances. Before his revolt, Pawar was accorded an important role in developing and finalising tie-ups. With the personality factor playing a prominent part in the formation of these allian ces, it needs to be seen how far the Congress(I) will be able to progress in this direction.

Amidst the struggle to recover from the swift developments in the party organisation, the Congress(I)'s only consolation is that the run-up to the elections is pretty long. Party leaders believe that the four-month period will enable the party to get ove r the reverses caused by the nationality question well before polling.

'There is no room for free discussion in Sonia Congress'

politics

Sharad Pawar, his supporters say, has taken the biggest gamble of his 40-year-long political career by inviting expulsion from the Congress(I) at a time when the party's stars are seemingly on the ascendant. The Maratha leader's followers also mai ntain that he has his eyes firmly set on the prime ministership and that the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections will witness many a manoeuvre from his side. When Venkitesh Ramakrishnan met the former leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha to fin d out what motivated him to embark on his present course of action, even as he was engrossed in discussions with colleagues and supporters on forming a new party. Excerpts from the interview:

One of the most surprising features of your revolt against the leadership of Sonia Gandhi was the pace at which events unfolded. After the Congress(I) failed to form an alternative government, it was believed that Sonia Gandhi had started seeking you r advice more frequently and depended on you more than ever. You had not raised issues such as Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin or her lack of experience previously as possible impediments to her election to the prime ministership. What was the provocation in the Congress(I) Working Committee (CWC) on May 15?

The issue of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin or her lack of experience did not arise all of a sudden at the CWC meet. In fact, the issue had been discussed among senior leaders of the party and members of Parliament, especially after the attempt to form an alternative government following the fall of the Vajpayee Ministry. Her moves, including the claim before Rashtrapati Bhavan that she had the support of 272 MPs to form a Congress(I) minority government, did indeed raise eyebrows within the party. For, the authorisation given by the CWC to take appropriate action to form an alternative (government) and prevent the dissolution of the Lok Sabha did not entail Soniaji making the claim that her candidature for prime ministership had the support of such and such MPs. More important, she had not had a proper discussion with senior leaders before making this claim. This was particularly shocking in the background of her declarations during the last election campaign that she was not interested in anything ot her than reviving the Congress(I). Sonia Gandhi had repeatedly said during those days that she did not want any post either in the party or in the government. All this had generated a debate within the party at various levels.

On May 15, this discussion acquired a formal form as Sonia Gandhi herself referred to the BJP's campaign against her foreign origin. There was a move to pass a resolution on this issue and all CWC members expressed their views on the move. Sangmaji point ed out that the issue did indeed agitate the common masses and that many youngsters were asking Congress(I) leaders whether they had nobody of Indian origin in this vast country of millions to project as Prime Minister. Sangmaji also said that we should act in such a manner as to give confidence to the country and deny the BJP an opportunity to make political capital out of the issue. Many members, including Anwar and I, supported the idea and later the letter was prepared to present our views in a mor e concrete form. But the reaction to that, which led to our expulsion, only underlined the authoritarian streak in Sonia Gandhi's leadership. It showed that there was no room for free and frank discussion in the Sonia Congress.

But you, P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar had no objection to the election of Sonia Gandhi as party president and later as chairperson of the Congress(I) Parliamentary Party (CPP).

We had no objection to Sonia Gandhi becoming party president. In fact, even in our letter of May 15, we appreciated the contribution she had made to the party and expressed the hope that she would continue in the organisational position for long. But the re was a problem in her elevation to the CPP chairpersonship. The party constitution did not have any provision to make a non-MP the leader of the CPP. To facilitate her elevation, the constitution was amended. This was done in an unusual manner with som e senior leaders (I do not want to name them) presenting a draft amendment all of a sudden at a meeting, with the statement that 'Soniaji desired to become the leader of the CPP'. We did not object then because the factors under consideration and the sit uation that existed at that time were different. The Congress(I) had only 140 members and there was no question of it forming a government. But when the party is actually in a position to form a government, we have a duty to understand and accede to the wishes of the people.

There is a stream of opinion that your position on the nationality issue is not consistent with your stand that Sonia Gandhi is acceptable as party president, to unify and revive the party.

The leadership issue is an internal matter of the party. But the question of leading the country is an issue concerning the entire country, its 950 million people. There is a feeling, motivated by self-respect, that the leader of the country should be a person born in India. This is not a legal approach, but a national approach. Over and above this, there is also the factor of experience. The leader of the biggest democracy in the world should have a proven track record. Every citizen has a right to kno w the capacity and experience of the person who is going to lead him or her. All that we did was to raise these issues at a proper forum and the response was direct expulsion. No show-cause notice, nothing.

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Your response, as a senior leader of the party, to your expulsion was interesting. You said you were relieved.

If this is the way the party is run, no doubt we are relieved to be out of it. Look at Sonia Gandhi's speech at the AICC (All-India Congress(I) Committee). She said that only those who want to believe and follow her need be in the Congress(I). She virtua lly asked all those who question her on any matter to get out of the Congress(I). Is this not a fascist, undemocratic approach?

There is also the view that your moves have been dictated by the BJP. The way you upheld the nationality issue raised by them, your ambivalence on joining hands with the BJP...

I was trying to safeguard the Congress(I) from the ill-effects of the BJP campaign on the nationality issue. History will prove me right. On the ambivalence about joining hands with the BJP, let me tell you that we are very much on the secular side and w ant to defeat the communal agenda. But I did not want to jump the gun before formally launching a party. The basic approach that we have envisioned for our party is to maintain equidistance from both the Sonia Congress and the BJP.

What would be the party's overall objective?

We would like to provide a viable alternative projecting the ideals of secularism, balanced development and social justice. The genuine and legitimate aspirations of large sections of the population, including Dalits, minorities and backward classes, hav e been overlooked by all parties for long. This has caused tremendous socio-economic imbalances in the country. One has to emphasise on strengthening the federal structure and federal principles of governance to overcome this. The basic ideology of the C ongress(I) as evolved by Nehruvian thoughts did address these concerns. But we have stopped doing this over the years. I am of the view that this can be rectified only by building the unity of all secular and regional forces. But to do this we need a con crete organisational platform. A beginning in this direction will be made on June 10 with the formal launching of our party. We know that the tasks before us are arduous and the path is hard. But we are ready to take them on.

Citizen Sonia

V.VENKATESAN politics

Sonia Gandhi's credentials as an Indian citizen, and her right to be considered for high office, including the post of Prime Minister, are constitutionally and legally beyond challenge.

The current political discourse over Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi's Indian citizenship has so far been marked by exchanges of invectives and innuendoes between Congress(I) leaders on the one hand and leaders of some of the parties opposed to the Co ngress(I) on the other. While Congress(I) leaders have been on the defensive, Sonia Gandhi's critics have been unable to substantiate their charges against her beyond making general chauvinistic claims that she is a foreigner, and therefore, is unfit to be the Prime Minister. The Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and the Nationalist Indian Congress of the expelled Congress(I) leaders led by Sharad Pawar have spoken of including in their respective election manifestoes a promise to amend the Constitution. The purpose of this will be to restrict high constitutional posts such as the offices of President, Vice-President and Prime Minister to "natural-born" citizens of India - a move fraught with grave implica tions for equality before law, which is guaranteed by the Constitution.

Those who argue for a constitutional amendment have given away, at the outset, most of their case. They have conceded, perhaps unwittingly, that Sonia Gandhi has qualified for citizenship under the existing constitutional and statutory provisions and the refore it is imperative to bring necessary amendments, at least, to prevent such naturalised citizens (that is, those not born in India and to Indian parents) from becoming President or Prime Minister. However, doubts have been cast on why Italian-born S onia Gandhi chose to acquire Indian citizenship in 1983 and not earlier (she has been residing in India since 1968, the year she married Rajiv Gandhi).

There is no dispute over the fact that Sonia Gandhi qualified for citizenship through naturalisation as laid down by the citizenship law and rules. She could not have applied for citizenship by registration until 1986. Before 1986, only people of Indian origin, if they had resided in India for six months before the date of their application, qualified for citizenship by registration. Sonia Gandhi's only qualification for Indian citizenship by registration was her marriage with Rajiv Gandhi. However, for this she might have had to wait until 1986 when Section 5 (c) was inserted in the Citizenship Act, 1955, through an amendment. The inserted section enables a foreign spouse marrying an Indian citizen to acquire Indian citizenship by registration, if he or she has resided in India for five years at the time of applying.

Sonia Gandhi, therefore, became an Indian citizen in 1983 by naturalisation as provided for under Section 6 of the Citizenship Act, 1955. This section enables any person not born in India or having Indian parents to become an Indian citizen if he or she has resided in the country for at least eight years on the date of application. The person concerned must have resided in the country throughout the eighth year. (The 1986 amendment increased the residence requirement to 13 years.) It is clear that Sonia Gandhi fulfilled the residence requirement.

Section 6 of the Citizenship Act enables the Centre to grant a certificate of naturalisation to foreigners, other than those living in the Commonwealth countries and Ireland, if they seek Indian citizenship and fulfil the conditions specified in the Thir d Schedule of the Act. The Centre can waive any or all of the conditions specified in the Third Schedule if, in its opinion, the applicant is a person who has rendered distinguished service to the cause of science, philosophy, art, literature, world peac e or human progress. In Sonia Gandhi's case, there can be no doubt that she sought Indian citizenship through fulfilling the conditions specified in the Third Schedule.

The first condition is that the applicant is not a citizen of any country where citizens of India are ''prevented by law or practice'' of that country from becoming citizens of that country by naturalisation. Frontline has confirmed after enquiry (see box) that in Italy, there are no such restrictions on Indians or other foreigners from becoming citizens by naturalisation. Unlike India, Italy does not impose any restriction on its citizens enjoying dual or even multiple citizenship. The only exce ptions are those provided by the Strasbourg Convention of May 6, 1963 on the reduction of double or multiple citizenship, which deals mostly with European countries. Nor does Italy restrict its high constitutional posts or any public office or elective p osition to natural-born citizens. Under the Italian Constitution and law, any person who has acquired Italian citizenship has the same rights as an Italian citizen by birth.

The second important condition in the Third Schedule is that if the applicant is a citizen of any other country, he or she must renounce its citizenship in accordance with the law in force there, and notify such renunciation to the Central Government. Su ch restriction on dual citizenship in India stems from the nationalist moorings of the early years of the Indian republic, when undivided citizenship was considered a strength and a patriotic imperative. Sonia Gandhi's enemies have speculated, without do ing any home work, that she may not have renounced her citizenship of Italy since that country allows dual citizenship. Senior Congress(I) leader Pranab Mukherjee asserted that she surrendered her Italian passport on April 27, 1983, thereby relinquishing her Italian citizenship. Her political enemies refused to accept this assertion and demanded documentary proof. But what was strange was that a statutory provision for dual citizenship in Italy, which in no way prevented an Italian citizen from volu ntarily giving up Italian citizenship, was being bandied about in the Indian political marketplace as ammunition to use against one who had been indisputably an Indian citizen for 16 years. On May 20, a Congress(I) press statement revealed that she appl ied for Indian citizenship on April 7, 1983, got it on April 13 and renounced her Italian citizenship on April 27, 1983.

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Sonia Gandhi also fulfilled another condition laid down in the Third Schedule that she must have adequate knowledge of a language specified in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, with her more than adequate working knowledge of Hindi.

Sonia Gandhi was enrolled as a voter in 1980 in the New Delhi Lok Sabha constituency - three years before she acquired Indian citizenship - and following an expose in the media, her name was deleted from the electoral rolls in 1982. She exercised her r ights as a voter after acquiring Indian citizenship in 1983. The Congress(I) has stated that she did not exercise her franchise before 1983, although her name appeared in the voters list between 1980 and 1982. Had there been any evidence of her voting be tween 1980 and 1982, she could have been prosecuted for making a false statement in Form 6 - the application for seeking voting rights - that she was a citizen of India, as only citizens can exercise the franchise. Media reports during the 1980 general e lections suggest that only Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi voted in the Nehru-Gandhi household. It would be absurd to suggest that Sonia Gandhi sought to be included in the voters' list in order to secure her Indian citizenship, as being a voter is not a condition for determining whether a person is a citizen.

Is it the case that India's Constitution-framers reckoned only with natural-born citizens, and did not think of a "naturalisation" process for foreign-born persons to acquire Indian citizenship? Articles 5 to 11 in Part II of the Constitution deal with the subject of citizenship. Article 5 deals with citizenship at the commencement of the Constitution. It confers citizenship on every person who has his or her domicile in the territory of India and "(a) who was born in the territory of India; or (b) eit her of whose parents was born in the territory of India; or (c) who has been ordinarily resident in the territory of India for not less than five years preceding such commencement." Article 11 empowers Parliament to make any provision with respect to the acquisition and termination of citizenship and all other matters relating to citizenship. This was achieved by the Citizenship Act, enacted by Parliament in 1955.

Clearly, the objective of the Constitution-makers - as evident from the August 1949 debates on the issue of citizenship in the Constituent Assembly - was not exclusivist. They were concerned with prescribing general qualifications for citizenship and lef t it to Parliament to decide the position of persons who are not born Indians. They agreed that there would be the law of naturalisation which would make detailed provisions relating to persons who are not born of Indian parents.

It is to the credit of the Indian Constitution that it does not distinguish the rights of citizens on the basis of how they acquired citizenship - by birth, descent, registration, naturalisation or incorporation of territory. It does not create different classes or categories of citizens. Vitally, unlike its United States counterpart, the Indian Constitution does not restrict eligibility to the top constitutional offices of President and Vice-President to natural-born citizens. There is also no question of placing any such restriction on eligibility to become a Minister or Prime Minister or Chief Minister. It was certainly a conscious decision of the Constitution-makers, as any such distinction between natural-born and naturalised citizens would milita te against equality before the law ensured by the Constitution.

Italy and citizenship

politics

John Cherian, Frontline,'s World Affairs Correspondent, submitted the following five questions to the Italian Embassy in New Delhi. He promptly received the following answers in writing from Francesco Paolo Venier, First Secretary in the Italian Embassy:

Does Italy allow dual citizenship?

Yes, the Italian law contemplates holding double or multiple citizenship. The only exceptions are those provided by the Strasbourg Convention of May 6, 1963 on the reduction of double and multiple citizenship, which deals mostly with European countries.

Under the Italian Constitution, are foreigners eligible for citizenship?

There is no mention to the rules for foreigners requesting/acquiring Italian citizenship in the Constitution of Italy. Provisions to this effect are regulated by law.

If foreigners are granted citizenship, do they have the same civic and political rights as other Italians?

Yes. Under Italian law, any person who has acquired Italian citizenship has the same rights as an Italian citizen by birth.

Are there any restrictions on Indians becoming naturalised citizens of Italy?

Not at all.

When did Sonia Gandhi give up her Italian citizenship?

Under Italian law, the circulation of information concerning the private lives of subjects possessed by the Public Administration is forbidden.

Alone, near the top

The recent discovery of the body of George Mallory on Everest revives a decades-old debate on the question whether the schoolteacher-turned-mountaineer reached the summit of the world's highest mountain.

In the days of peace, England will always hold some who are not content with humdrum routine and soft living. The spirit which animated the attacks on Everest is the same as that which has prompted Arctic and other expeditions, and in earlier times le d to the formation of the Empire itself. Who shall say that any of its manifestations are not worthwhile? Who shall say that its inspiration has not a far-reaching influence on the race? It is certain that it would go rusty with disuse, and expeditions l ike the attempt to scale Everest serve to whet the sword of ambition and courage.

- The Morning Post, London, on George Mallory and Andrew Irvine's deaths, June 24, 1924.

FROM 1926, two years after George Mallory and Andrew Irvine died on the heights of Everest, a succession of mystical accounts of their death began to emerge. Austrian climber Firdo Kordon, after attending a seance with his son as medium, claimed that bot h had reached the summit of the world's highest mountain. Irvine, he said, had collapsed on the summit, while Mallory fell to his death on the way down. Their colleague on the 1924 expedition and the last man to see them alive, Noel Odell, later heard si milar accounts from both a Canadian mystic and a Scottish artist who had heard the story from a psychic friend.

Many of the claims made about Mallory in the wake of the discovery of his body on Everest in May raise the same discursive questions as the mystical revelations of 1926. The claims come in the wake of the discovery of Mallory's body by the British-Ameri can Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition. The team based its search on reports from Chinese climber Wang Hangbao, who in 1975 saw an "old English" body. But why has an excavation of the events of June 8, 1924 come about? Why has the discovery of Mallor y's body led many people to claim that he was indeed the first man to set foot on the summit of Everest? And what ideological purposes does this interrogation of the history of Everest climbs serve?

The answers are, predictably, deeply rooted in history and necessitate engagement with the fact that the conquest of Everest was at its core a colonial enterprise.

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The first tangible step towards its realisation came with the appointment of Lord Curzon as Viceroy of India in 1898. With rumours of the Tibet's Dalai Lama planning an alliance with the Tsar of Russia in the air, Curzon commissioned the adventurer-soldi er Francis Younghusband to lead a military incursion. In 1904, in the wake of a bloody four-month campaign, Younghusband took Lhasa. The Dalai Lama fled to Mongolia. The British now focussed their attempts on resisting Chinese efforts to establish sovere ignty in Tibet, by arming local groups. When Chinese troops took Tibet in 1910, the Dalai Lama took refuge in India. An insurrection forced the Chinese out two years later, but a grateful Dalai Lama had evolved a special relationship with Britain, based on its generous arms supplies.

Younghusband had opened a route to Tibet. Secretary of State John Morley, intensely opposed to Curzon's policy in India, resisted the idea of an expedition. Such an expedition to Everest, he argued, would provoke Russian suspicion and endanger the emergi ng entente between the Tsar and imperial Britain. In the wake of the Great War of 1914-18, these equations changed. The Russian empire was in ruins, and the new revolutionary regime had little interest in expansion southwards. China too had seen rebellio n. The expedition through Tibet was now no longer a strategic issue. On April 26, 1920, the first Expedition Committee was set up in London, resolving to send members out with the "principal object" of "the ascent of Mount Everest".

"Where White Man Has Never Trod," proclaimed one British newspaper when the Royal Geographical Society formally announced its first Everest expedition in January 1921. With the Depression having taken hold of Europe, and its working class radicalised by the brutal butchery inflicted by the elite during the War of 1914-18, the expedition appeared a comforting diversion, an assertion of the values that made imperial Britain. Finance was slow to come, but these obstacles were overcome, interestingly, by co mmercial newspaper sponsorship. One observer caustically suggested that the Royal Geographical Society's professional secretary Howard Hinks "go to Lord Leverhume and say, give us 10,000, and we will take a large cake of Sunlight Soap and a flag also wi th Sunlight Soap emblazoned on it, and we will plant them on top of Everest".

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The 1921 team was in many ways ill-fated: many of its members were unfit. It had few skilled mountaineers, and the members were often at odds with one another. One of them, however, was to be associated in public perception with Everest more than any oth er person until Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary finally reached the summit. George Mallory, a schoolteacher at Charterhouse, was an unlikely candidate for fame. At Cambridge, he had an undistinguished academic record, despite the brilliant company of R upert Brooke and Lytton Strachey. His principal assets were his looks - the homosexual Strachey described him in a letter to the author Virginia Woolf as possessing "a face - oh incredible - the mystery of Botticelli, the refinement and delicacy of a Ch inese print, the youth and piquancy of an unimaginable English boy."

Mallory's climbing credentials were poor. His colleague on Everest, Geoffrey Young, said that Mallory, compared with his contemporaries, was the "greatest in unfulfilled achievement". None of his climbs before the fateful 1924 expedition is remembered by climbers, and Mallory himself showed little interest in the project. He described Tibet as "a hateful country inhabited by hateful people." In his letters, he insisted on describing the 1921 expedition's Sherpa porters as "coolies", and on one occassion was evidently surprised that one, though "slightly built", could keep up with him uphill.

In the end, though beaten by the onset of the monsoon, the 1921 expedition made significant gains. It surveyed the mountain from each side and discovered a practical route to it from the north. But Mallory himself seemed little interested in a second att empt. "Never mind Everest and its unfriendly glories," he wrote to his friend David Pye. "I'm tired of travelling and travellers, far countries and uncouth people, trains and ships and shimmering mausoleums, foreign ports, dark-skinned faces and a garish sun." This unsavoury and blatantly racist attitude, albeit common to the British ruling class of the period, has largely been censored out of media accounts of Mallory's character.

However, the schoolteacher chose to go up again, in 1922. This time, learning from its experiences, the expedition did better. George Finch and Geoffrey Bruce, the latter a military officer with no previous climbing experience, made it to 27,000 feet. Th at was the only time a climber has set a new world altitude record on his first attempt. The 1922 expedition used oxygen for the first time, an idea initially Mallory rejected because it went against his romantic ideas about mountain conquest. His record on the expedition was marred by a tragic incident, when seven Sherpas lost their lives in an avalanche below the North Col after being ordered to climb in bad snow conditions.

Back in England, Mallory found himself out on a financial limb. Without a job and with a family to support, he tried unsuccessfully to make a living giving lectures on his expeditions in the United States. On his return he did land a job but was raring t o go to Everest again. His opportunity came in 1924. "We are going to sail to the top this time and God with us," he wrote to his friend Tom Longstaff, "or stamp to the top with our teeth in the wind." A first attempt by Geoffrey Bruce and Mallory was be aten back by the weather, while Edward Norton made it to a confirmed 28,126 feet, a record that would stand for 30 years. Now, Mallory chose Irvine for a final crack at the summit.

Odell, on a geological reconnaissance trip, was the sole eyewitness to what happened next. "I noticed far away on a snow slope leading up to what seemed to me to be the last step but one from the base of the final pyramid, a tiny object moving and approa ching the rock step. A second object followed, and then the first climbed to the top of the step. As I stood intently watching this dramatic appearance, the scene became enveloped in cloud once more, and I could not actually be certain that I saw the sec ond figure join the first. It was, of course, none other than Mallory and Irvine." Odell first believed that he had seen the two on the second step on Everest, a wall of rock near the summit.

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On reflection, however, Odell concluded that Mallory and Irvine must have been on the first step, much lower down the mountain. This, Walt Unsworth points out in his exhaustive discussion of the issue in his book Everest, was affirmed when Chinese climbe rs took five hours to climb the sheer face of the second step for the first time in 1960. "Even allowing for the many inconsistencies of the Chinese report," Unsworth points out, "it is obvious that the second step could not have been climbed in five min utes, as Odell suggested. " Given that an ice axe belonging to either Mallory or Irvine was discovered in 1933 near the first step, as the body has been now, it seems likely that was indeed the scene of the accident. Mallory's body was still roped, sugge sting Irvine must have fallen with him.

"OBTERRAS LONDON - MALLORY IRVINE NOVE REMAINDER ALCEDO - NORTON RONGBUK," read the telegram despatched when all hope was lost. But did the two make it to the summit? Mallory's admirers insisted he had, as they have done after the discovery of his body. But if Mallory was on the first step, he would have had no time to make it to the summit and back before night made movement near-impossible. Then, although Mallory's sunglasses were in his pocket, which some have used to claim that the fall must have ta ken place at night on the way down the ridge, it could equally well suggest that he simply took them off while waiting to die after the fall.

Authorities like Hillary have made clear their scepticism of claims, provoked by the discovery of the body, that Irvine or Mallory made it to the top. This opinion may have to be revised if photographs of Mallory on the summit are indeed found in his cam era, a profoundly unlikely possibility. But why should such claims have resurfaced in the first place, when evidence clearly does not exist to revise already-known expert beliefs?

In some senses, it matters not at all whether Mallory made it to the top or not. The rediscovery of Mallory's climb in Western mass imagination, and the privileging of his achievement over that of Norgay and Hillary, seeks again to invest with romance th e failed imperial climbing project of the pre-Second World War period. That a brown subject and a colonial were the first to reach the top of Everest sits uncomfortably with renewed claims of imperial cultural supremacy. Perhaps not coincidentally, the e nterprise has come when the projection of Western imperialist values has acquired a renewed political immediacy. Wangbao's 1975 discovery, after all, launched no great revivalist searches. Mallory's body is merely a pretext: the real story lies, as in th e early 1920s, not on the heights of Everest but in distant wars, this time in Iraq and Bosnia.

LETTERS

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Narmada Valley projects

Congratulations for the remarkable Cover Essay ("The Greater Common Good", June 4). Rarely has an issue of such interest and significance received due prominence in the recent history of the Indian media. It is even more rare that the politics behind an important development issue is written about with such power and effect and without an iota of exaggeration or inaccuracy. Salutes to Arundhati Roy for choosing to stand up to be counted.

For far too long, under the guise of technical and expert knowledge, society has ignored fundamental questions such as what is development, development for whom, at what cost and at whose cost. There is no doubt that large dams have contributed to a cert ain amount of development. But never - not for one out of the over 3,300 dams built in independent India - have governments raised questions about their benefits and costs and about who has reaped the benefits and who has paid the price. Having been invo lved in these issues for over a decade, one wishes that these developmental issues are brought out from the hold of experts, bureaucrats, politicians and academics and turned into issues of public interest, as they truly are.

These developmental issues are crucial for the very survival of democratic governance. We pride ourselves in being the largest functioning democracy in the world. But democracy does not exist for hundreds of millions of people. If 50 million people (and that is a very conservative estimate and the Government, for its part, does not have the figures) can be displaced in the name of development without just or humane treatment, what democracy are we talking about? Politicians are not bothered about these issues, bureaucrats are not interested, the media for most part are least interested. The market, the god of the last few decades of this millennium, would wish that such problems do not exist. Parliament has no interest in such issues. Aid agencies suc h as the World Bank, the biggest financier of large dams, is happy that they have very good principles of resettlement; they do not care whether the principles implied policies, provisions or mechanisms to ensure their implementation. If the latest deve lopments on the Sardar Sarovar Project are any indication, the judiciary too is not ready to give the most marginalised sections of society their due. Where is the place for the poor and the marginalised in our democracy?

Are large dams effective even in achieving the ends they set out to achieve? Let us take just one aspect of the argument - the most vocal part. An impression is sought to be created that food self-sufficiency (very different from food security for the po orest people, which is far from being achieved) of the nation is due to the large dams. We did a simple calculation to find out how much of the food production in post-Independence India is due to large, canal-based irrigation projects. The answer was su rprising - less than 12 per cent of the additional food production in post-Independence India. And what enormous costs society has paid for this marginal gain! All indications are that had India taken the alternative path of harvesting rain, the gains w ould have been much larger, much less painful and much more equitable and sustainable. But thanks to the self-seeking people in government and the ever-helpful aid agencies such as the World Bank, that path was never taken.

After spending 50 years and over Rs.100,000 crores in water resources development, if the number of people who are without safe drinking water and basic necessities is bigger than before, if more villages are without an adequate source of water, more peo ple are malnourished, if more areas are flood-prone and if damage due to floods is rising with each passing year, what development, what democracy are we talking about? Are huge projects such as the Sardar Sarovar compatible with democratic functioning? The answer, if we dare to answer honestly, is a big no.

I hope that this critique of the Narmada Valley projects by Arundhati Roy will lead to a genuine debate on these issues.

Himanshu Thakkar Baroda * * *

It is a delight to see a newsmagazine like yours publishing something on big dams on the cover.

Arundhati Roy's article communicates the horrors of such development that plague this country and cause trouble to its people. We have become experts at displacing millions of people, besides destroying tens of thousands of hectares of forest land and th en putting up concrete giants that provide nothing for people other than those who milk the country dry. We are tired of hearing about "electricity" and the "irrigation" needs of this country. Our businessmen and political leadership are damaging the fut ure of the nation with projects like Sardar Sarovar. The people of this country must act and stop this project. Let us set a precedent; let us end the massive trauma of a river, a people and the entire ecological system around. It is truly a moment for e veryone to join hands with the Narmada Bachao Andolan and end the horrors of this project.

Valmik Thapar New Delhi * * *

I read Arundhati Roy's expose of the farce that is development, several times, with tears in my eyes. They were tears of rage, anger. The most powerful weapon of mass destruction - as Arundhati so poignantly points out - after big dams and nuclear weapo ns is the development model and the powers that be who are pushing it down the people's throat. We need more of such exposes; we need to remove the holiness ascribed to development and progress which are achieved at the cost of 50 million lives.

It may be that the Iron Triangle will not read Roy's article or, having read it, will tend to dismiss it as emotional propaganda funded by foreign hands. But to all those who have been protesting against the destruction that is passed on as progress and development, it will serve as a major morale booster. Protest - that is all that we can do.

The author could consider publishing it as a separate booklet, which could be translated into Indian languages and circulated widely.

Amit Mitra New Delhi * * *

Each and every word of the Cover Essay was heart-breaking. Thank you for publishing the essay.

Karimbam K.P. Rajeevan Thaliparamba, Kerala * * *

Arundhati Roy's essay is a brilliant piece of writing focussing on the huge human costs of and the tremendous destruction of the environment caused by big dams. Despite having knowledge of these costs and the human misery, our planners are bent upon exec uting these big dams, aided by funding agencies such as the World Bank which turn a blind eye to the woes of the affected people and the submergence of forests. It is heartrending that people are uprooted from their homes of generations, to be turned int o refugees in their own land. The rehabilitation package is too small and comes too late.

A point that must be noted by the anti-big dam activist is that some of the projects are in an advanced stage and hence it is not practical to roll these back. The best that can be done is to speed up the rehabilitation of the displaced persons by involv ing the villagers and the tribal people concerned along with the activists fighting for justice. It should be possible to find land and forests nearer to their erstwhile homes so that they do not feel so totally lost in an alien environment, as happened when those who were displaced from Madhya Pradesh were asked to settle in Gujarat. A compromise must be reached on the height of any dam so that submergence is the minimum, with minimum damage caused to forests and hills.

The time has come to plan new dams with greater care than is being done at present. While it may not be possible to avoid big dams totally, the environment and the people concerned should be the priority before projecting a return on investment (ROI) in terms of water, irrigation and power potential. Small is beautiful, with minimum damage to the environment and the least displacement of people, and better than building big dams which cause enormous problems, are very expensive and have doubtful ROI. En vironmental activists must be proactive in suggesting alternatives, instead of adopting a laissez faire approach until projects are finalised and work has started and then beginning their agitations.

And lastly, the Minister for Environment at the Centre and in the States must be a full-fledged Cabinet Minister whose voice is respected. The Minister must put his or her foot down on projects which harm the environment and hurt people living at and nea r the sites of the projects. The Minister must be more concerned with the human and environmental costs of dams than the benefits in terms of water, agriculture and power since he or she would be working solely to protect the interests of the people and the environment.

D.B.N. Murthy Bangalore * * *

In the country, electoral politics is one way of channelling one's anger. Several groups in our society have grown in power over the last 50 years from positions of near-powerlessness. It was not mentioned - and it is not clear - whether this very powerf ul means of redressing one's grievances is being used by the affected people of the Sardar Sarovar and other dams. Had the details of why the Supreme Court removed the stay on the construction been given, they would have thrown more light on the legal as pects of the issue.

With warm regards, and in expression of support to the NBA.

Dr. Samir Kelekar Bangalore * * *

Your Cover Essay has given me new hope. If Arundhati Roy has the confidence to write on the complex issue of big dams and Frontline decides to print it, then I tell myself that maybe I can be the star performer of the Bolshoi Ballet Company even t hough I am 92 years of age. Thank you for making me believe that anything is possible.

P. Namboodiri Mumbai * * *

Arundhati Roy has once again chosen to be the darling of ignorant "activists". Her article reminds me of a poster in our laboratory, a message to animal-right activist: "Animal experiments have increased life expectancy by 20 years, it is up to you to de cide how to spend it." Her stance on the nuclear tests in Pokhran last year and the current article only expose her Green leanings.

Sure, the Government deserves the blame for its callous attitude in dealing with "displaced" people. And certainly babudom does not make life easier for the tribal people. But that cannot stand in the way of developmental activities. What else would Arun dhati Roy suggest as a solution to the bitter energy and water crisis in the country? Certainly she would not want India to be a land of tribal people for ever, would she? Small is beautiful only on paper. Only big and bold ideas have liberated this worl d from dark ages. Individual freedom has to be sacrificed in the national interest. It is a pity that activists lack a macroscopic perspective. And seldom do they come up with a viable alternative.

Anand Parthasarathi Michigan, U.S. * * *

You seem to have lost all sense of news perspective. While I appreciate you writing about big dams, I can neither condone the choice of author nor the length of the essay. It was an exercise in vanity and I am sorry to see my favourite news magazine fall a prey to it.

Anamika Lal Mumbai The killing of an activist 16121101jpg

After the spate of killings and counter-killings by various militant groups and the armed forces, the people of Assam were shocked to receive the news of the killing of the popular painter, sculptor and Communist Party of India (Marxist) activist, Pramod Talukdar, at Tamulpur in Nalbari district. On May 5, miscreants killed the artist apparently to stop his struggle for the betterment of the downtrodden, which he pursued through the medium of art.

On the night of May 5, unknown persons dragged him out of his house around 10.30 p.m. and attacked him with knives. The police failed to trace the person whom they suspect to be involved in the murder although he was reportedly hiding in a village hardly one kilometre from the police station soon after the incident.

A teacher by profession, Talukdar became famous as a painter in his 20s. He later taught himself sculpting. His work always carried some message to the people in simple and clear terms. He denounced thoughtless violence and fought for peace and amity amo ng the various communities of Assam through the medium of art.

Pramod Talukdar worked and created some images and landscapes in the Rural Gallery and Tribal Gallery of the Assam State Museum in Guwahati. He was also involved in work of the same nature in Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra, a cultural centre established in Guwahati under the Assam Accord and inaugurated by the President recently. He designed and built the main gate for the venue of the Assam Sahitya Sabha Conference held at Goreswar; the conference is the biggest annual of litterateurs in Assam and attr acts thousands of people from all walks of life. He also designed and built the main gate of the venue of the All Bodo Sahitya Sabha Conference held at Tamulpur.

Kandarpa Kalita Guwahati

'The question was decided by the Constituent Assembly'

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Congress(I) Working Committee (CWC) member Arjun Singh is considered close to Sonia Gandhi and is held partly responsible for the recent crisis in the party. According to some party insiders, Sharad Pawar, P.A. Sangma and several other leaders wit h a mass base were unhappy that Arjun Singh wielded considerable influence in the affairs of the party without having any significant mass base or administrative skills. Excerpts from an interview Arjun Singh gave Venkitesh Ramakrishnan:

The Congress(I)'s failure to form an alternative government immediately after the fall of the Vajpayee government and the recent revolt by senior party leaders have changed the perception that the party is on a strong wicket and is ready to face the L ok Sabha elections. What is your assessment of the developing political situation?

The failure to form an alternative government was by itself not a factor that could cause damage to the party's prospects. We had all along maintained that we would not bring down the government but that it would fall under the weight of its own contradi ctions. That is what happened when the AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) withdrew support to the Vajpayee Ministry. As the main Opposition party, it was our duty to vote against the government. We were of the view that all those who unite d to bring down the government would be equally ready and responsible to form an alternative. But leaders such as Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav, who were most vociferous in wanting to bring down the government, did a volte-face. That does not show us in a bad light.

As for the developments in the Congress(I), we are sad about it. But it has in a way given the rank and file an opportunity to demonstrate its solidarity with the party president. Although it could have been debilitating, it turned out to be a source of great strength for the party and its leader. The Congress is not interested in leading a personal attack against anybody. On the other hand, the BJP seems to be interested only in targeting Sonia Gandhi's nationality. Sonia Gandhi, in her recent speech t o the AICC, made it clear that she would not respond to this so-called nationality question but would leave it to the people.

But the issue of foreign origin is what has caused the revolt in the Congress(I).

The question of nationality was decided by the Constituent Assembly in 1949-50. The people who decided it were those who fought against foreign rule and who were in no way sympathetic to any foreign country. But in their wisdom and in the overall context of rationality and liberal values, they allowed a person (foreign national) to acquire citizenship. That situation has not changed. Those who are trying to make an issue out of it should realise that the most patriotic segment of society has settled the issue of nationality. So, whatever is entailed in the Constitution and whatever powers it confers on an individual is sacrosanct.

The argument against the projection of Sonia Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate is not legal but is said to be based on self-respect.

What do they mean by self-respect? The members of the Constituent Assembly had no self-respect? Can you accuse Sardar Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Acharya Narendra Dev and Jawaharlal Nehru of having no self-respect?

What do you think is the motive behind the campaign?

It is personal ambition born out of the realisation that Sonia Gandhi's political status would cause a setback to their ambition. She was good for campaigning in the parliamentary and Assembly elections to fetch votes. But not good enough for prime minis tership?

How do you react to the accusation that some leaders left the party on account of the undue importance given to leaders like you, who have neither a mass base nor organisational skills?

I have been in politics since 1957 and have fought more elections than Pawar. But if winning an election is the only way to prove your commitment, many leaders get elected for other reasons too. What is a mass base? If you have worked for the welfare of the poor, the handicapped, the farmers... that is mass base. I can proudly say that in all the years I have been in and out of office I have done what is humanly possible to further the cause of the poor and the downtrodden. As for competing with Pawar, on what basis should I compete? In his capacity to betray the people? He has betrayed every single mentor of his - Yashwantrao Chavan, Vasantrao Patil, Rajiv Gandhi and now Sonia Gandhi. I cannot compete with him on this.

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The other argument offered is Sonia Gandhi's lack of experience.

For 30 years she has been in a family that was at the helm of affairs for 26 years. She has not held any office. But to say that she has no experience whatsoever will be begging the question.

How does the Congress(I) plan to counter the present situation?

Personally, I do not think that there is any setback. The elections will prove that. The Congress will, through the issues that it will articulate and through its leader's charisma, get a positive response in the people's court.

The Congress(I) has projected a prime ministerial candidate almost always when it fought general elections. In this context, what is the relevance of Sonia Gandhi's statement that the Congress(I) Parliamentary Party will choose the prime ministerial c andidate?

Soniaji has clearly stated that the MPs will elect the prime ministerial candidate. Just because she is a candidate, it does not mean that she is an aspirant.

How would you assess the organisational situation after the expulsion of the three leaders?

There could be some problems in Maharashtra. They would be peripheral. The elections will prove that nothing has changed the Congress(I)'s electoral prospects.

Regime of restrictions

R. RAMACHANDRAN science-and-technology

In an apparent bid to preserve the United States' nuclear hegemony, a move is on in the U.S. to impose restrictions on visits to its nuclear weapons laboratories by scientists or others from 25 countries, including India, which are listed as sen sitive.

ON April 27, Senator Richard C. Shelby moved a bill in the United States Senate, titled Department of Energy Sensitive Country Foreign Visitors Moratorium Act of 1999. The bill seeks to ban the visit of a scientist or any other person "who is a citizen o f a nation that is named on the Department of Energy (DoE) Sensitive Countries List" to any facility of a National Laboratory of the DoE. The term "National Laboratory" refers to the three U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories; namely, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Livermore, California; the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Los Alamos, New Mexico; and the Sandia National Laboratories (SNL), Albuquerque, New Mexico, and its facility located adjacent to the LLNL.

A "sensitive country" is one which the DoE considers a risk on the grounds of national security, nuclear proliferation, regional instability or terrorism, and may therefore want to acquire U.S. nuclear weapons secrets. India is among the countries named in the DoE's Sensitive Countries List, which consists of 25 countries. The other countries in the list are Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Cuba, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Libya, Moldova, North Korea, Pakistan, Russ ia, Sudan, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan. The bill provides for exceptions to the ban only on a case by case basis following an assurance by the DoE Secretary to Congress that the visit is vital to U.S. national security.

Moving the bill (S.887), Shelby, a Republican and also the Chairman of the Select Senate Committee on Intelligence, said: "The Senate Intelligence Committee has been critical of DoE's counter-intelligence programme for nearly 10 years. Beginning in 1990 we identified serious shortfalls in funding and personnel dedicated to protecting our nation's nuclear secrets. Year after year, the Committee has provided additional funds and directed many reviews and studies in an effort to persuade the DoE to take ac tion. Unfortunately, this and prior administrations failed to heed our warnings. Consequently, a serious espionage threat at our national labs has gone virtually unabated and it appears that our nuclear weapons programme may have suffered a serious damag e."

The exaggeration of serious espionage continuing unabated would appear to be largely political rhetoric and the serious damage that Shelby has referred to is the alleged transfer of classified information relating to the design of the nuclear warhead W-8 8 to China in the mid-1980s. This is alleged to have been done with the help of Wen Ho Lee, a Taiwan-born U.S. national, employed as a computer scientist at the LANL. He is believed to have stolen the computer codes and other details while working at the LANL.

The theft came to light in 1995 when U.S. experts who analysed Chinese underground nuclear tests found a great similarity between the design of the device used in the tests and the W-88 design. Although the involvement of Lee had been suspected in 1996 i tself, U.S. investigating agencies were able to identify him as the person responsible for the theft only in March 1999. Lee was promptly dismissed from the laboratory and his house was searched, but there is not enough evidence yet to charge him.

More than the Indian (and Pakistani) nuclear tests of May 1998, it is this incident that appears to have given a renewed impetus to the issue of restricting the visits of foreign scientists to weapons laboratories, a matter which has been the subject of many U.S. studies since the late 1980s. The bill was first moved in the House of Representatives (H.R. 1348) by Jim Ryun and Gene Taylor on March 25, 1999, soon after the disclosure on this case by U.S. intelligence agencies. It has now been moved by She lby in the Senate, with nearly identical language and content.

The Indian and Pakistani tests, however, are bound to have a strong bearing on further action on the bill. From the Indian and Pakistani perspectives, the present move reinforces the visa restrictions and the curbs on collaborations and scientific exchan ges that were enforced in the wake of the tests.

The bill restricts its own scope to the DoE's weapons laboratories. Soon after the Pokhran and Chagai tests, the DoE issued what is known as the Pena Memorandum, which spelt out guidelines for the various collaborative research and exchange programmes of all DoE institutes - not just the weapons laboratories - with Indian and Pakistani institutions. As a result, for example, Indian participation in the major ongoing international collaborative programme called D-Zero at the Fermi National Accelerator La boratory, Illinois, had to be suspended.

The DoE policy that existed at the time of the Pokhran-II and Chagai "prohibited any interaction with Indian and Pakistani institutions or nationals (other than permanent lawful residents of the U.S.) that could directly contribute to the nuclear, missil e or other missile capabilities of the two countries." The Pena Memorandum, dated June 16, 1998, directed a stricter enforcement of this policy and the following set of additional actions:

* Suspend all activities financed by the DoE and the National Laboratories, except humanitarian assistance, with Indian and Pakistani government entities;

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* Suspend all activities, including visits by Indian and Pakistani nationals from nuclear institutes and other entities in the sanctioned Entities List;

* University programmes receiving DoE funding should seek headquarters' guidance on continuing their activities with these entities;

* Suspend all high-level visits (Deputy Assistant Secretary or above and laboratory equivalents) to India and Pakistan; and

* Suspend hosting high-level delegations from these countries.

Any exception to these were to be made on a case by case basis with the approval of the DoE Secretary. The memorandum also said that "DoE and National Laboratory support for research and scholarly activities of Indian and Pakistani nationals from institu tes other than those listed, including support provided indirectly through U.S. universities, may continue until further notice."

The Nuclear Science Centre (NSC), an inter-university institution under the University Grants Commission, which does not figure in the Entities List, has a significant joint research and development programme with the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), a DoE institution in Chicago. The programme continued for a while after the Pena Memorandum, but it has now been terminated and the NSC scientists are expected to return by August. From this, it is clear that the bill goes a little further by prohibiting interactions of all Indian and Pakistani institutions with the DoE's weapons laboratories.

HOW serious will the impact of this ban be on the Indian (and Pakistani) scientific community? Some interesting data in this respect are available from a September 1997 study by the U.S. Government's General Accounting Office (GAO) on the Controls Over F oreign Visitors to Weapons Laboratories. This study was carried out in response to a directive by a May 1996 report of the House Committee on National Security in order to determine how well the DoE had managed visits by foreigners to the weapons laborat ories.

The report observed that with the end of the Cold War and with the changing missions of the weapons laboratories, which had resulted in research activities in diverse fields such as high-performance computing, material science, astrophysics and even biol ogy, the number of unclassified visits by foreigners had increased significantly. However, in the context of some investigative cases in the 1990s involving foreign nationals in the DoE's laboratories, it expressed concern that, while foreign visitors pr ovided benefits to the DoE's programmes, the weapons laboratories were key targets of foreign intelligence interest and espionage.

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In its assessment, the GAO found that the average annual number of visits by foreign nationals had increased by over 50 per cent from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. And it was found to be increasing every year. According to GAO data, of the 20,000 uncl assified visits made to all the DoE institutions, about 7,000 were to the weapons laboratories. The GAO concurred with the House Committee that there had been cases of espionage in the 1980s and 1990s and obliquely referred to the Chinese espionage incid ent.

As such visits are perceived to be not without risk, the DoE had issued an order way back in 1992 prescribing detailed administrative procedures to control unclassified visits to and assignments at its facilities. These, as the term unclassified implies, do not offer access to classified research and information areas. A visit signifies a short-term stay of up to 30 days and an assignment, a long-term stay of between one month and two years. According to the DoE's estimates, about 25 per cent of the for eign visitors to its weapons laboratories are assignees. The DoE's data also show that almost 30 per cent of the visitors to the weapons laboratories are from sensitive countries.

The DoE's 1992 order betrayed a perceived security risk involved in visits to research areas, which, although unclassified, are sensitive, "because they have the potential to enhance nuclear weapons capability, lead to nuclear proliferation, divulge mili tarily critical technologies, or other advanced technologies". Sensitive subjects include nuclear weapons production and supporting technologies, detection of nuclear explosions, inertial confinement fusion, production and handling of plutonium and fuel fabrication.

In addition, subjects are considered sensitive if they belong to any of the following three categories: technologies under export control, "dual use" technologies, and rapidly advancing technologies that may become classified or may be placed under expor t control. These categories include computer systems; component development, software specially designed for military applications; extremely high-energy, high brightness lasers and particle beams; and high-energy density batteries and fuel cells.

As part of the administrative procedures laid down to clear the visit of a foreigner from a sensitive country, a "national security background check" is required to be done: this is to determine if U.S. government agencies have any derogatory information , such as intelligence affiliation, about the individual. As an extra line of defence, the DoE and its laboratories operate counter-intelligence programmes to identify and mitigate the risk of sensitive information being divulged to foreign countries. Ap parently, if "derogatory information" is received by the DoE, it rarely denies the visit but observes strict vigilance and counter-intelligence measures and restricts accessible areas or the subjects to be discussed.

DESPITE these measures, the GAO study found many lapses in the implementation of the procedures laid down at the three laboratories. It observed that few national security background checks were performed on visitors from sensitive countries. As a result , it found that foreigners suspected by the U.S. counter-intelligence community of having foreign intelligence affiliations had been permitted access to laboratories without the advanced knowledge of appropriate officials. Further, because of the impreci se criteria for what constituted sensitive subjects and the lack of an independent review process, foreign visits involving potentially sensitive subjects - such as inertial confinement fusion, hydrodynamic codes and the detection of nuclear weapon tests - were occurring without the DoE's knowledge, according to the study.

The GAO found that from 1994 to 1996, background checks were obtained only on 5 per cent of the visitors from sensitive countries to Los Alamos and Sandia as against 44 per cent in the case of visitors to Livermore (see Table). The study pointed out that by checking backgrounds of so few visitors from sensitive countries, DoE limited the collection of counter-intelligence data and may be unknowingly allowing significant numbers of visitors with "questionable backgrounds" into its weapons laboratories. I n support of this statement, the GAO provided data which showed that of the background checks the DoE held on its visitors from sensitive countries to the weapons laboratories during 1994-96, about 4 per cent indicated the existence of "derogatory infor mation". The GAO documented 13 instances where persons with suspected foreign intelligence links were allowed access without background checks - eight to Los Alamos and five to Sandia - during 1994-96.

According to the GAO report, while the DOE laboratories identified a total of 72 visits involving sensitive subjects during 1994-96, the GAO's own assessment was that 167 visits were related to sensitive subjects. Among these, the GAO has highlighted the visit by an Indian scientist from a defence-related facility to Los Alamos on an assignment which involved the structure of beryllium compounds. (Beryllium is used as a neutron reflector in nuclear weapons.) In another instance, an Indian scientist was on an assignment to Los Alamos for work related to pattern recognition and anomaly detection algorithms, an area regarded as dual-use with applications in satellite image processing.

These facts underscored the difference in the perceptions of the scientific community and the administrators as what constitutes sensitive subjects, with the latter's view being too broad and all-encompassing. As the Los Alamos scientists have pointed o ut, the problem has been vastly exaggerated because, for example, experiments in a subject like inertial confinement fusion are carried out all over the world and much of the information is available in open literature. Besides, academically speaking, it is difficult to determine what is sensitive, they say.

Nevertheless, according to the GAO, the DoE and the weapons laboratories had agreed that problems existed, and they had begun to take action. In November 1996, the DoE had initiated a multi-issue effort to revise its 1992 order, based on the shortcomings that the GAO had drawn attention to, such as the lack of performance measures to judge the efficacy of counter-intelligence operations. The GAO, on its part, had made a set of recommendations which included a directive to the DoE to make a comprehensive assessment of the espionage threat to serve as the basis to determine appropriate counter-measures and resource levels for laboratory counter-intelligence programmes and also to comply with the order by obtaining 'background checks' on all assignees fro m sensitive countries. These are, according to the DoE, being implemented.

GIVING the rationale for introducing a total ban on visits from sensitive countries, Shelby said: "While I welcome the efforts of the administration to address the problem, I am disappointed that it took some bad press (the recent disclosures on the Chin ese incident) to motivate them rather than a known threat to our national security. Nevertheless, the DoE has begun the process of repairing the damage caused by years of neglect, but it will take time to make the necessary changes. In fact, it may take years. In the interim, we must take steps to ensure the integrity of our national labs. I understand that a moratorium on the foreign visitors programme may be perceived as a draconian measure. Until the department fully implements a comprehensive and su stained counter-intelligence programme, however, I believe that we must err on the side of caution. The stakes are too high."

The move is largely a political response to a perceived threat, which in the view of the academic community is vastly exaggerated. It also reflects a paranoid obsession with non-proliferation, which has only been heightened by the Pokhran-Chagai tests. T he earlier House Committee report and the GAO study would also seem to be typically administrative hyper-reaction as in the case of other familiar measures, such as export controls and technology denial regimes of the U.S. administration. The Chinese esp ionage case, as yet unproven, is being used to institute yet another embargo to preserve the U.S' nuclear hegemony and nuclear stockpile.

A dialogue in Bangalore

PARVATHI MENON in Bangalore science-and-technology

A year after Pokhran-II, experts from India and the United States meet and discuss the sensitive question of nuclear weaponisation and international security.

IN an initiative aimed at opening channels in "track two diplomacy" between India and the United States on the sensitive question of nuclear weaponisation and international security, a closed-door 'dialogue' involving leading scientists, former bureaucra ts, academics and retired senior military officials from the two countries was organised by the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) in Bangalore from May 19 to 21. The Indian organisers appeared unusually nervous about the media interest in the dialogue and discouraged the press from covering even an open panel discussion on the first day.

The dialogue itself was held under the Chatham House rules, a protocol which imposes a degree of confidentiality on its proceedings by barring views expressed at the meeting being attributed publicly to those who expressed them.

The U.S. delegation, noteworthy for the range and depth of expertise in nuclear issues that it represented, consisted of 11 members and staff from the Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC), a standing committee of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. The CISAC, created in 1980, consists of members with substantial experience in nuclear policy. Most of them are still involved in security-related issues.

The first such exercise in non-official interaction on policy issues connected with India's nuclear programme, its strategic concerns with respect to agreements such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and so on, was held in January 1998. Pokhra n-II changed the terms of the nuclear debate to a large extent, but it also sharpened the need, according to prominent participants, to continue a dialogue on nuclear issues and security concerns. In October 1998 the NIAS and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences agreed to hold another round of discussions in May.

Prominent among the members of the U.S. delegation was General George Lee Butler, former Commander of the U.S. strategic nuclear forces, who has subsequently become a leading advocate of the abolition of nuclear arms. The delegation, led by CISAC Chair, Professor John P. Holdren, included weapons and arms control expert Richard L. Garwin, East Asian policy specialist Jonathan D. Pollack of the RAND Corporation and Indian-born laser physicist C.K.N. Patel, currently Vice-Chancellor of Research at the Un iversity of California at Los Angeles. The Indian team, which had several members who are on India's National Security Council Advisory Board, included Raja Ramanna, former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission; Roddam Narasimha, Director, NIAS; K. Su brahmanyam, former Director of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, Arundhati Ghose, India's Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva; and General Satish Nambiar, who was Commander of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Bosnia .

The meeting was divided into four sessions. The first session was devoted to a discussion on recent developments and directions in the nuclear weapons policies of the U.S. and India; the second discussed the efforts towards nuclear zero with U.S. and Ind ian perspectives on disarmament; the third discussed accounting and verification arrangements for weapons and materials; and the last dealt with minimising the chances of accidental, inadvertent and unauthorised uses of nuclear weapons. A limited public audience had the opportunity to listen to some of the views expressed by U.S. and Indian participants at a panel discussion on nuclear arms and security.

The views offered by the two sides represented a reiteration of well-known and publicised positions, but with greater detail and substantiation than on earlier occasions. The CISAC delegation, as a non-governmental body whose members are free to differ p ublicly from each other on issues on which there is no consensus, differentiated itself quite sharply from several fundamental positions of the U.S. government on nuclear matters.

Members of the CISAC presented the experience of the U.S. strategic nuclear programme and explained how close the U.S. had come to a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union during the Cold War years, particularly during the Cuban missile crisis. They spok e about the current problems in the former Soviet Union, particularly Russia, where the Army does not have the financial resources to maintain nuclear arms, leading to the real possibility of unauthorised sale or leakage of knowhow and fissile material.

The CISAC has recommended that the U.S. Government announce a unilateral no-first-use policy on nuclear arms, a declaration the government refuses to give. In a major report, The Future of Nuclear Weapons Policy (published by the National Academy Press, Washington, in 1997), the CISAC strongly recommended that nuclear forces be confined to "core deterrence", that operational practices be changed in such a way as to reduce risks and that the U.S. and Russia make deep mutual cuts in their nuclear a rsenals within a short time-frame. CISAC members also clarified their vision of the pursuit of the goal of total disarmament which they preferred to describe in the framework of prohibition rather than abolition.

The CISAC's views, however, also differ sharply from the Indian position, particularly with respect to arms control agreements. The dominant view from the Indian side was that Pokhran-II was a continuation of the nuclear policy pursued by earlier Indian governments. A more critical view of Pokhran-II - that it represented a dangerous shift in India's nuclear policy and that it broke the national consensus on nuclear issues that had existed earlier - was also put forth. Unsurprisingly, opinions differed sharply on the question of India signing the CTBT. The Indian side expressed concern about the absence of clauses that would ensure fair verification procedures and its implications for national sovereignty.

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Oct 9,2020