NEW DELHI, Jan 23: Differences have arisen in the perceptions and approaches of India and the United States over a clutch of major issues related with Pakistan, and Indian media reports said on Wednesday that the transfer of an Indian army corps commander over his alleged bid to move armour columns threateningly along the Rajasthan border at the height of recent tensions with Islamabad was actually prompted by seriously worried officials in Washington.
While Lt Gen Kapil Vij’s summary transfer has generated a heated discussion and an official denial that India acted under the US pressure, New Delhi has been somewhat less ambiguously told to de-escalate its military build-up against Pakistan if it wants Washington to signal its approval of the long-pending Israeli Phalcon aircraft sales to India.
On two other significant issues regarding Pakistan, there appeared to be a yawning distance between the views of India and the United States on Wednesday. First, New Delhi emphatically differed with the remarks by American officials who claimed the cross-border movement of Kashmiri militants had decreased along the Line of Control in Kashmir.
“We haven’t discerned any long-term trends in this regard,” Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said in response to the American view of the situation along the LoC. Rao said a heavy snowfall in the passes connecting the two sides of Kashmir was always an impeding factor in the movement of militants. “We have to wait and see if this is a purely seasonal respite,” she said.
A second difference of opinion between India and the United States emerged over the characterization of Tuesday’s shootout at the American Center in Kolkata. While the US State Department was hesitant to categorize the shooting of four Indian policemen guarding the American Center as a terrorist act against America, New Delhi had promptly hinted at links between the alleged killers with the ISI. On Wednesday a more cautious Delhi declined to comment on the identity of the motorcycle-borne killers until further investigations.
But the most important issue that was gaining wide coverage in the media and causing murmurs within the political establishment was the alleged role of the United States in the transfer of a senior Indian General from his key post at the Pakistan border.
Reports said some armour columns of Lt Gen Vij’s troops, the Ambala-based 2 corps, went into strike formation along the Punjab-Rajasthan stretch of the India-Pakistan border recently.
“It is believed that the decision to transfer Vij was taken under pressure from the US, which presented India with evidence, in the form of satellite images, showing that Vij’s troops had moved uncomfortably close to the border,” said a report on Tehelka.com website.
It said the transfer of Lt Gen Vij, General Officer Commanding (GOC), has evoked mixed reactions from people across the board. With defence analysts mixed in their interpretations and analyses of the event, questions were being asked if it was possible for him to have acted without the knowledge of political authorities.
“Questions about the extent of the United States’ influence over India — where, in spite of the war-like situation, Indian movements, it seems, are being directed by the US — evoked equally troubling responses,” the report said.
The state-run Press Information Bureau’s (PIB’s) Defence Wing released a statement saying, “The speculations that the General Officer (Vij) was shifted due to external pressure or directions of the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) are totally baseless.” It also said that General Vij had requested annual leave due to personal problems, and has, therefore, been shifted from the post.
The Hindustan Times on Tuesday reported that Lt-General Vij was removed from his post after the US expressed “concern” over the forward deployment of the strike formations under his command.
It cited government sources as confirming that the PM’s Office issued instructions that the general be shifted. Consequently, the army asked Lt-General Vij to proceed on leave. He has been replaced by Lt-General B.S. Thakur, the chief of staff of the Army Training Command, Shimla. The army had said that Lt-General Vij had gone on leave for personal reasons.
The Hindustan Times said that last week US satellites picked up the movement of the Ambala-based 2 Corps of which Lt-General Vij was the General Officer Commanding. The satellite images apparently showed that some armour columns of 2 Corps had moved into strike areas from their concentration areas, which are generally at a safe distance from the border.
“The information was also made available to Pakistan. The Americans discussed the issue with Pakistan during US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s visit to Pakistan last week. Following this, the US expressed its concern to India,” the newspaper quoted unidentified official sources as saying.
The US reportedly confronted India with the images. But the government apparently denied that it had instructed the strike formations to move to forward locations. “The PMO immediately asked the army to take action against Lt-General Vij,” a senior officer revealed.