May 2002 News

PM heads for J&K to assess state of crisis

20 May 2002
The Hindustan Times

New Delhi/Jammu: Against the backdrop of growing tensions between India and Pakistan, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee begins a highly significant, three-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday. Vajpayee will visit Jammu, Srinagar and some forward areas for an on-the-spot assessment of the situation. This comes amid growing international pressure for restraint by both India and Pakistan. Extraordinary security precautions have been taken on the eve of Vajpayee''s visit. While IAF aircraft will patrol the skies round the clock, the army will be guarding areas where he will visit. Nothing will be left to chance. ''Pakistan is desperate and can play any mischief,'' official sources said, and recalled how Pakistani troops had shelled Kargil airfield when Vajapyee had visited the town during the Kargil war in June 1999. Vajpayee will first visit the military hospital in Satwari, where he will meet the eyewitnesses to the Kaluchak attack. The PM has shown keen interest in ''knowing for himself how those horrors unfolded''. Several representatives from Jammu have been invited for a special hour-long interaction with the PM at Raj Bhavan, where he will stay overnight. ''We are going to tell the PM that it is time to act and any delay would only mean doom for all of us,'' said a senior trade and industry leader. On Wednesday morning Vajpayee will travel to Srinagar and then to forward areas in Kashmir where his focus will be on defence preparedness. On Thursday, Vajpayee will preside over the meeting of the unified headquarters (UHQ). He will be joined by Home Minister L.K. Advani and Defence Minister George Fernandes. It is the first time that the UHQ meeting will be presided over by the Prime Minister since it was created in May 1993. At Sunday''s meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the armed forces were directed to follow the guidelines set down in the ''War Book''. The Book is usually consulted when the army gets ready for war. Drawing attention to the CCS'' decision to place paramilitary forces and the coast guard under the command of the army and the navy respectively, Advani told the Hindustan Times: ''The government would go ahead and win the proxy war like (India) did in 1971.'' Meanwhile, the border shelling continued, with New Delhi claiming that it took out ''eight to ten enemy bunkers'' and killed six Pakistani soldiers in ''retaliatory firing''. Even as a number of countries asked India to be restrained, an External Affairs Ministry spokesperson responded to such pressure by noting that India appreciated these countries'' concern, but asked them to use their influence on Pakistan. ''Let us turn our vision to the primary area, which is terrorism.'' Economy mode The PM is expected to announce an economic package for J&K. The nuts and bolts of the package are being finalised. During his two-day stay in Srinagar, he will meet a representatives of trade and industry. Sources said after his return from Srinagar, the PM will inaugurate the Rohtang Pass Tunnel in Himachal on May 24. He will then leave for Manali the same day, for rest at his favourite hill resort.


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