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August 3, 2000
Details of PM's visit were worked out onboard aircraft
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
Even as a shell-shocked nation came to terms with the massacre of over 100 persons in Kashmir, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee rushed to Srinagar and Pahalgam, along with an all-party delegation, in a show of empathy for the victims and survivors.
According to officials in the Prime Minister's Office, Vajpayee decided in the morning to go to Kashmir and meet the survivors of the carnage, unleashed by militants on August 1 and 2.
To avoid making the trip seem partisan and clearly show that Indians were united in their concern for the events in Kashmir, it was also decided to make it an all-party delegation.
Union Defence Minister George Fernandes, a senior leader of the Samata Party, accompanied Vajpayee as the other member from the National Democratic Alliance.
PMO officials said the only constraint was the extremely short notice given to various political parties about the visit.
"The parties were told around 1100 hours IST that the special aircraft carrying the prime minister will leave by 1300 hours, giving them very little time, especially as Parliament was in session," the officials said.
However, given the nature of the violence, whose victims include the Amarnath Yatra pilgrims and labourers from Bihar, it was a trip no political party was willing to skip.
From the Congress, none other the Sonia Gandhi, party president and leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, went along. Accompanying the prime minister were Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and former home minister and Communist leader Indrajit Gupta.
The prime minister and the delegation visited Srinagar and Pahalgam, where many of the pilgrims to the Amarnath caves, revered by Hindus, were gunned down. And in a show of defiance, the government has ordered that that the yatra [ pilgrimage] will continue under army protection.
Though keen to visit more places, it seems that the security risk to the prime minister and other senior political leaders prevented Vajpayee from being excessively ambulatory. "The prime minister's security team limited the tour to Srinagar and Pahalgam. They warned against going anywhere else, especially since there was no time to make adequate arrangements," the officials said.
In fact, so short was the notice that exact details of the visit were worked out on board the special flight and the Jammu and Kashmir police were notified by security personnel on board the aircraft.
The ongoing session of Parliament prevented the prime minister from staying overnight in Kashmir.
Meanwhile, the army is stepping up operations in the valley and Jammu region, but army sources pointed out that they faced a dilemma.
On the one hand, all non-Hizbul Mujahideen militant outfits have stepped up violence, clearly putting the security forces on the defensive. After the massacres, the army is stepping up operations.
However, the army has been told to suspend operations against the Hizbul, which last week made a dramatic announcement of a cease-fire and requested negotiations.
"How will the security personnel tell whether a terrorist is from the Hizbul or some other outfit?" pointed out the army sources.
The sources said that in areas known to be under Hizbul, suspending security operations was simple. The trouble was in areas where Hizbul and other groups operated.
In another related development, various political parties demonstrated outside the Pakistan high commission in New Delhi against Islamabad's alleged support to the militants responsible for the carnage.
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