Indian airstrikes in Kashmir to continue

Pakistan offers to send its foreign minister to New Delhi this week


NEW DELHI, India -- Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said yesterday that India would continue airstrikes against what he described as Pakistani-backed infiltrators dug into Indian territory, and would be willing to hold talks with Pakistan about the conflict only if they were not conditional on a halt to the air raids.

Vajpayee's remarks came in response to a telephone call Friday from Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who offered to send Pakistan's foreign minister to New Delhi to meet with his Indian counterpart. Sharif said India and Pakistan, as the world's newest nuclear powers, should try to resolve their dispute over Kashmir, where India is now battling the infiltrators, through diplomatic channels.

It was not clear whether Sharif had made suspension of the airstrikes a condition of the talks. Pakistan's minister of information, Mushahid Hussain, said yesterday in Islamabad that Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz would be going to New Delhi this week for talks.

In a speech in Karachi on Friday, Sharif said he had warned Vajpayee that if any more Indian fighter jets ventured into Pakistan-held Kashmir, they would be shot down, just like two Indian jets that Pakistan says it downed on Thursday. Sharif said he told Vajpayee, "Come and sit around the table to resolve the Kashmir issue."

India and Pakistan have been squabbling over Kashmir since they were carved from British India in 1947. India claims Kashmir as one of its states, while Pakistan maintains that the Kashmiris should be allowed to vote whether to join India or Pakistan.

In this latest permutation of an old feud, India has asserted that Pakistan sent almost 700 infiltrators, including Pakistani soldiers and Afghan mercenaries, across the boundary this month that separates Indian- and Pakistan-held portions of Kashmir to seize control of a swath of Indian territory.

Vajpayee spelled out India's position during a meeting yesterday morning with leaders of the major political parties.

India cannot be expected to stop air raids on intruders in its own country, Indian officials said.

For the fourth day yesterday, India pounded the icy hide-outs of the guerrillas with airstrikes in an attempt to drive them back into Pakistan, kill them or force them to surrender.

Maj. Gen. J. J. Singh, an Indian army spokesman, said India had found proof that Pakistani soldiers were among the "intruders." Originally the disputed area was about 90 miles long and 4 to 5 miles wide, but it has shrunk considerably under the Indian air and ground assault.

He said the proof, found by Indian troops on Friday, is a Pakistan army identity card for Sepoy Abdul Ayub, a soldier in the 4th Northern Light Infantry, that was tucked into a rucksack abandoned at a site of fighting in Indian-held Kashmir.

Pakistani officials could not be reached for comment yesterday, but they have denied involvement with the guerrillas, whom they describe as indigenous Kashmiri freedom fighters.

Pub Date: 5/30/99

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