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June 16,
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No meeting of minds
By Ranjit Dev Raj

NEW DELHI - Talks between the foreignministers of India and Pakistan have failed to resolvea raging border conflict between the South Asian neighbors, letalone the larger issue of disputed Kashmir.

Visiting Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz said at a pressconference at the Pakistan High Commission after Saturday's talks failedthat the root problem between the two countries remained failureto ''enable the people of Kashmir to exercise their rights."

Aziz placed on India the onus of de-escalating tension bycreating an atmosphere conducive to a diplomatic settlement,starting with an end to India's air strikes and militaryoffensive against intruders on the Line of Control (LoC).

But there was no let up during the talks in the air-strikes begun on May 26and followed later by an infantry offensive, against what India claims are Pakistan army regulars and Afghan mercenaries.

Aziz has also demanded an end to artillery exchanges, runningfor several months now but intensified lately. They were, hesaid, causing heavy casualties on the civilian population livingalong both sides of the LoC.

He reiterated Pakistan's oft-repeated claim that the heavilyarmed men dug in on heights overlooking the Kargil area on theIndian side of the LoC are mujahideen (Islamic freedom fighters)fighting a ''10-year-old jihad'' to liberate Kashmir.

During the 70-minute meeting, Indian Foreign Minister JaswantSingh confronted Aziz with the alleged torture to death by thePakistani army of six Indian soldiers who were ambushed in theconflict area of Kargil in the Ladakh region of disputed Kashmir.

Singh later told journalists that Aziz ''did not deny itwhen it was raised thrice.''But Aziz said at his press conference that the injuries wereprobably caused by the ''weather,'' and disimissed India'saccusations as part of a ''disinformation campaign."

Singh said the simplest way to de-escalate the tension on theborder, as demanded by Pakistan, was to ''eliminate the cause ofthe tension - the armed intrusion.'' India, he warned, wasprepared to tackle it militarily if not diplomatically.

Further, Singh said, the talks could go forward only whenPakistan's ''myth-making and euphemism'' in describing theintruders in Kargil as freedom fighters ends.

A major point of contention at the talks was Pakistan'sinsistence that the LoC was vague and not properly demarcatedon the ground and India's equal insistence that it was settled aspart of the 1972 Shimla agreement between the two countries.

Aziz accused India of ''overreaction'' over the LoC which hedescribed as a ''broad thing.'' He said while the LoC wasdemarcated on maps it has never been delineated on the ground.''There is something happening there all the time."

According to Aziz, the best way to prevent conflicts along theLoC was to have independent monitors and an expanded role forthe United Nations Military Observers Group (UNMOG), which has been stationedthere since the conflict first erupted 50 years ago.

He also rejected tape recordings presented to him of telephonicintercepts between Pakistan army chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf andhis chief of staff Lt. Gen. Mohd. Aziz, in which the Pakistani army isshown initiating the conflict.

The tapes, which Singh said were authentic and electronicallyvoice-matched, showed an army plan to capture a large slice ofIndian territory in the Kargil sector and block the Srinagar-Lehroad which supplies the strategic Siachen area, said to be theworld's highest battlefield.

They also showed the Pakistan generals dictating the agenda forthe talks, leading foreign ministry officials to doubt whether Azizhad the authority to negotiate. ''Tapes are never accepted asevidence as they can be doctored,'' Aziz told journalists.

Aziz said differences between the two countries ''cannot beresolved by unilateral demands, unfounded allegations or theescalation of tensions.'' The two countries cannot make progress in theirrelations while ''whipping up war-like hysteria and hatredagainst each other or through threats and coercion."

Regarding the outcome of the talks, Aziz said he had ''noillusions of resolving the current difficulties in a day's visitto New Delhi and he hoped that the talks would continue.

India has given no indications on whether talks willcontinue. Replying to a question. Singh said it wasnot a question of his making a return visit to Paksitan but oneof Pakistan vacating the armed intrusion on the LoC as a ''minimumnecessary'' condition.

Singh is to visit, on invitation, Pakistan's close ally,China, next week on what he described a bilateral visit in whichthe South Asian region will be discussed. Aziz flew to Indiahours after a visit to Beijing.

(Inter Press Service)

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