Tuesday, June 18, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Troop pullout in 8 weeks
Withdrawal from Punjab, Rajasthan if Pak relents
Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service

Indian soldiers load their bags on to an army truck heading from Kishangarh in the Thar Desert in Rajasthan state near India's border with Pakistan on Monday. India last week, allowed its troops to go on leave for the first time in nearly six months, in yet another sign its tense military standoff with Pakistan may be easing.
— Reuters

New Delhi, June 17
While keeping a close watch on the activities from across the Line of Control (LoC), specially that of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)-backed terrorist groups, India is expected to start withdrawing its troops from the offensive mode in the coming six to eight weeks, subject to certain parameters being met.

Sources in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said while some steps had already been initiated, the real process for de-mobilising the forces along the borders could start in the coming six to eight weeks. However, there are strings attached to it, like Pakistan stopping cross-border terrorism and putting an end to its activities on Indian soil.

Reports here suggest that a lot would depend on the steps being taken by Pakistan in response to the recent Indian gestures. Most importantly, controlling the activities of Pakistan-backed terrorists in this country would be a step forward in bringing about a thaw in the tensions between the two countries.

Keeping in line with the statements of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and other senior ministers of his Cabinet, the sources said while there would be no pullout from the Jammu and Kashmir sector, the situation in the other sectors, especially Punjab and Rajasthan, could change.

There were indications that in the coming weeks, the troops stationed in the Punjab and Rajasthan sector could be asked to withdraw to the ‘defensive mode’ from the present ‘offensive mode’, eventually leading to a slow and steady de-escalation.

Reports suggest that even if any pullback of troops is ordered in the Punjab and Rajasthan sectors, it would take at least a month for the operation to be completed as was the case when the mobilisation of troops was ordered.

The sources affirmed there would be no pullback of troops in the J&K sector. However, after reviewing the level of infiltration from across the border periodically over a few weeks, the formations even in this sector may be asked to go into a defensive mode. This would materialise only after India is satisfied that Pakistan is sincere in its promises and matches them with necessary action on the ground.

As J&K remains the focus of the issue between India and Pakistan which is also the centre of terrorist activities, India will not be lowering its guard in this sector. Already Home Minister L. K. Advani and Defence Minister George Fernandes have said that despite all the promises made by Pakistan, India will have to remain cautious.

Meanwhile, in a move which signals the de-escalation mode to be adopted by the Indian forces, a decision has already been taken to allow soldiers to proceed on leave from June-end. The move comes in the wake of assurances from the USA that Pakistan would take appropriate measures to stop cross-border infiltration.

Restrictions were put on leave for troops with the commencement of Operation Parakram in December last following the attack on Parliament House which involved the biggest-ever build-up of forces by India. Even the 1971 conflict with Pakistan had not seen such a big build-up by India.

Incidentally, a decision has also been taken to resume all suspended training programmes and military courses from July. The Directorate-General of Military Training at the Army Headquarters has issued necessary instructions for the selected personnel to be relieved from duty in forward locations to enable them to join the courses.



More positive steps ahead
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 17
India today indicated that it was willing to take more positive steps to de-escalate border tension and said that it would not be found wanting if Pakistan permanently stopped cross-border terrorism and infiltration.

“India will not be found wanting if Pakistan takes the required steps...our response will be dependent upon actions by Pakistan,” an External Affairs Ministry spokesperson told reporters here.

On a statement from Pakistan that it would withdraw its forces from the border if India took the lead in the regard, she said, “It all depends on how the situation unfolds. Over the years, there has been a continuous attempt by elements supported by Pakistan to infiltrate and create trouble in India...until we see an end to such activities, it is too premature to talk about military de-escalation”.



Pak will reciprocate positively

Islamabad, June 17
Reiterating its demand to India to withdraw its forces to peace-time locations, Pakistan today declared that “it will reciprocate” favourably once India complied with this demand and added that such a step would be very “desirable.”

“Peace remains threatened as long as India has its forces in an offensive position,” Foreign Office spokesman Aziz Ahmad Khan told reporters here, adding, “Pakistan would certainly reciprocate if India withdraws its troops to peace-time locations.”

He said Pakistan had deployed its forces to forward positions only after India did so. He also admitted that there had been some de-escalation in the tension between the two neighbours.

Mr Khan said the entire international community had been urging for de-escalation of tension and India should take “real steps” needed to ease the situation. UNI



5 Pak bunkers destroyed

Jammu, June 17
At least five Pakistani bunkers were destroyed when Indian troops opened retaliatory firing on frontier Pakistani positions across the LoC in the Dras sector while several Pakistani border outposts were destroyed across the LoC and the international border last night.

Indian and Pakistani troops remained locked in a fierce artillery duel at Digwar area in the Poonch sector since 5.35 pm. A civilian sustained shrapnel wounds in Pakistani shelling here.

Official sources said this evening that the Pakistani troops opened heavy mortar firing on forward Indian formations and villages bordering the LoC in the Dras sector late last night and rained fire for about 25 minutes.

In retaliation, Indian soldiers opened fire from similar calibre guns and the fiery showdown continued for sometime following which the Pakistani forces opened fire from artillery guns.

Indian soldiers too carried out fire assaults from similar guns and in the ensuing artillery battle, four Pakistani bunkers were destroyed and a kerosene bunker was also destroyed, the sources said.

Several Pakistani outposts were destroyed when the Indian forces carried out retaliatory fire assaults on frontier Pakistani positions across the LoC and the border throughout last night, the sources said.

Meanwhile, the Indian and Pakistani forces remained locked in a fierce artillery battle at Digwar area near the LoC in the Poonch sector this evening. Indian forces carried out retaliatory fire assaults after Pakistani shelling injured a civilian, Subash Chander, at Digwar. He has been airlifted to Jammu for treatment. UNI


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