India claims control of key Kashmir sector
July 10, 1999
NEW DELHI, India -- Indian soldiers have driven Pakistani- backed rebels out of most pockets of the disputed region of northern Kashmir, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said Saturday.
"The enemy's intrusion and aggression in Kargil has now been decisively turned back...Most pockets have already been cleared. There, our troops are back on the LOC," Vajpayee said, referring to the Line of Control separating Kashmir into Indian and Pakistani zones.
Vajpayee sounded a triumphant note in a speech to senior military officers, telling commanders "A turning point has come." It is the first time in two months of fighting that India claims to have reached the Line of Control.
India said it had killed 108 Pakistani-backed fighters in a two-day battle to capture a strategic peak in the Himalayan mountain area where the fighting is taking place.
"It's now only a matter of days before the last of the Pakistani intruders are flushed out -- dead or alive," Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes said in a statement
But a spokesman for one rebel group disputed India's claim of battlefield success.
"It is totally baseless," said Ahmad Hamza, a spokesman for the Al-Badar group, said in Islamabad. Hamza said the group contacted its fighters in the area late Friday, and they reported no Indian gains.
The Indian drive and official reports of military gains coincided with a Pakistani government plea to Islamic militants in the remote Himalayan mountain region to retreat.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with guerrilla leaders Friday, urging them to withdraw from Kashmir. But the rebels' umbrella organization said Saturday that it had rejected the government call.
"A withdrawal ... would be detrimental to the freedom struggle for Kashmir and the mujahedeen will fight to their last breath to free their motherland from Indian forces of aggression," a statement said.
Sharif pledged to take "concrete steps" to get the guerrillas out of the disputed Kashmir territory during talks in Washington with U.S. President Bill Clinton. In exchange for Sharif's intercession, Clinton promised to push for a resumption of peace talks. India said that amounts to mediation, something New Delhi has consistently rejected.
Pakistan's call for a pullout is a reversal of the government's previous attitude towards the militants, and the shift has sparked criticism and protests in Pakistan.
Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto said Sharif's handling of the crisis was "damaging to Pakistan's national interest and undermining to the Kashmir cause." Islamic opposition parties have held scattered protests and publicly burned effigies of Sharif and Clinton.
The Islamic fighters have traditionally counted on Pakistan for diplomatic support in their campaign to force India from Kashmir.
Sharif is expected to brief the National Assembly on Monday in an address that is to be broadcast live.
India launched a grueling air and ground offensive in May to drive out what it says are Pakistani soldiers and Islamic guerrillas from the Kargil section of northern Kashmir. Pakistan says the rebels are Kashmiri freedom fighters.
Kashmir, a former princely state during British rule, has been the cause of two wars since the southwest Asian neighbors -- now nuclear powers -- gained independence from Britain in 1947. Both countries hold part of Kashmir and lay claim to the rest.
Pakistan urges Muslim rebels in Kashmir to withdraw
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