One day after accusing the Pakistani army of torturing and executing six Indian soldiers, India said today that it had tapes of telephone conversations showing that top Pakistani army officials are running military operations against Indian forces in the disputed province of Kashmir and dictating foreign policy to civilian leaders in Islamabad.
India has repeatedly accused Pakistan's armed forces of directly supporting and participating in an ongoing insurgency operation in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, a Himalayan region claimed by both countries. Pakistan had insisted that the insurgents are Kashmiri "freedom fighters" and that Pakistani forces are not involved in their operations, but Pakistan's army spokesman acknowledged Thursday for the first time that Pakistani armed forces had established mountain posts in Indian-controlled Kashmir to block Indian military supply routes.
Today's accusations by Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, who quoted extensively from autopsy reports on the six soldiers and played 20 minutes of semi-audible telephone conversations to bolster his case, purported to prove that Pakistani forces are not only participating in the infiltration but are directing it and telling civilian authorities what to say to the public and to Indian officials.
Although India's accusations could not be corroborated independently, they seemed to all but ensure failure for talks scheduled here Saturday between Singh and Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz aimed at defusing tensions in Kashmir.
"The entire nation is outraged by the savage treatment of our soldiers. . . . I feel as if I had been personally violated," Singh angrily told reporters. The only way to reduce tensions, he added, is if Pakistani forces agree to "go back where they came from" and to "account for the barbarity" of abusing and killing Indian soldiers in Pakistani custody.
Pakistani authorities immediately dismissed Singh's charges as "hogwash" and "psychological warfare" aimed at boosting the morale of India's armed forces and at diverting attention from the broader issue of Kashmir's future. They said there were no plans to cancel Aziz's visit to New Delhi.
"This is absolutely baseless," Pakistani Information Minister Mushahid Hussain said in a telephone interview from Islamabad tonight. "It's a point-scoring exercise on the eve of the talks and a media psy-war to shore up the sagging morale of the Indian army, which everyone knows has suffered serious reversals" in Kashmir since mid-May.
Western diplomats here said Singh's accusations lowered the already low expectations surrounding Saturday's diplomatic talks, suggesting they will yield little but fireworks and could break off in midstream, increasing chances of military escalation between the two nuclear states.
"These new events just affirm our belief that this is going to be a shouting match," one diplomat said tonight. "No doubt there is a danger of escalation, and the message of most Western countries to both sides is restraint." The United States has leaned toward India's position and asked Pakistan to withdraw all fighters under its control, but Washington has also warned India that if its forces cross into Pakistan, it will lose a great deal of international support.
Indian officials, including Defense Minister George Fernandes, began leveling accusations Thursday that Pakistan had tortured and killed six Indian soldiers who were captured three weeks ago and whose remains were returned to India on Wednesday.
In Islamabad Thursday night, Pakistan's army spokesman, Brig. Rashid Qureshi, insisted that the six Indian soldiers had died in battle three weeks ago along the line of control separating Indian and Pakistani Kashmir, and that they had been handed back to India "with full military honors." He called India's charges "a crude attempt to malign Pakistan" and derail the diplomatic talks.
Today Singh read from what he said were independently monitored autopsy exams that showed the soldiers had died of shock or were shot to death after receiving serious injuries that "point toward torture." One soldier had a fractured skull, one had been shot in the mouth, and another's left eye had been "eviscerated" with a blunt instrument, he said.
Then Singh played tapes of two loud but scratchy conversations, partly in English and partly in Urdu, that he claimed were between the Pakistani army's chief of staff and chief of operations. Indian officials would not say how or where they obtained the recordings.
The conversations strongly imply that Pakistani military officials are conducting the Kashmir insurgency and issuing frequent "guidelines" on what civilian officials should say about it.
"I have spoken to the foreign secretary, and I have told him that he should make the appropriate noises about this in the press," Lt. Gen. Mohammed Aziz, the chief of general staff, purportedly said to his boss, Gen. Pervez Nusharraf, the chief of army staff, while Nusharraf was visiting China on May 29.
In both alleged conversations, the generals discuss their "recommendations" for Foreign Minister Aziz's meeting here, saying that "he should make no commitment . . . on the military situation," that he "should not even accept a cease-fire," and that he should postpone the talks if the military situation deteriorates.
The two speakers discuss how they arranged to have Kashmiri insurgents take responsibility for shooting down an Indian helicopter last month and how Pakistani officials were told not to "make any . . . mistake" and to say that Indian warplanes had dropped bombs inside Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.