August 2002 News

Army will empower all attempts to disrupt Kashmir elections: Fernandes

20 August 2002
The Daily Excelsior

New Delhi: Government has definite reports that Pakistan intends to step up violence in Jammu and Kashmir to disrupt the Assembly polls, Defence Minister George Fernandes said today asserting that armed forces would act decisively to ''overpower'' such attempts. Declaring that Government in its possession had ''innumerable intercepts'' between militant headquarters located in Pakistan and groups active in Kashmir, Fernandes said these messages gave instructions to militants on ways to disrupt elections, how to get rid of candidates and eliminate campaigners. Asserting that Government would take no chances whatsoever with elections in the State, the Defence Minister said, if necessary, it would consider keeping the forward deployment of troops on the borders even beyond October. ''Elections will be free and fair. The Government is determined to ensure that these polls are violence free'', the Defence Minister told Doordarshan in an interview to be telecast tonight. Fernandes said though the past few months had seen 20 to 30 per cent drop in infiltration, but with the poll process being set in motion, Islamabad had stepped up efforts to push in mercenary militants into the State and cited the abortive bid to sneak in a big group of 18 mercenaries across the line of control in Kupwara frontier on Saturday night. ''But with an estimated 3,000 militants already inside Indian territory pushing in more would hardly make any difference'', the minister said adding that though violence was inevitable, the armed forces would take adequate steps to foil any attempts to disrupt the elections. Asked if Pakistan would relent before international pressure to allow violence free elections, Fernandes quipped ''Pakistani leaders today are military men, right from President downwards. For them elections don’t mean a thing''. He said to some extent the Pakistani authorities might make token efforts towards this, but ultimately they would harp on claiming that these militants were not their people. On President Musharraf’s public assurances to end cross border terrorism, the Defence Minister said it was very difficult to come to any definitive conclusion whether Islamabad would stick to their words and accept advice from friendly nations to keep off election process in Jammu and Kashmir. ''Musharraf makes a public statement to Colin Powell and later he disowns it only subsequently to again own it up'', Fernandes said declaring ''how can you trust such a Pakistani leadership''. Asked if he perceived a shift in US strategy by dropping its earlier insistence on Pakistan to dismantle all terrorist camps to merely saying now that Pakistan should stop cross border infiltration, the Defence Minister said he saw a change in the situation.


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