India denies Pakistani claim of unprovoked airstrikes

Dozens of Indians killed in Kashmir, Pakistan says


NEW DELHI - Hours after a senior American official began talks here yesterday to reduce tensions between India and Pakistan, Pakistan accused India of an "unprovoked attack" across the Line of Control in disputed Kashmir.

Pakistan accused India of carrying out airstrikes, which it termed "a highly escalatory act," and said India had lost "dozens of personnel" in the mountainous area.

Indian officials denied the attack and the casualties, and said Pakistan was trying to deflect attention from its failure to fulfill a promise to end infiltration across the border by Muslim militants. The attack is a "total fabrication," said Brajesh Mishra, a close aide to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, after emerging from a two-hour meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, who is scheduled to go to Pakistan today.

Although Indian and American officials emphasized that Pakistan and Kashmir were only part of the agenda yesterday, it was the subject that dominated the meeting. When Armitage goes to Islamabad, Indian officials want him to pressure President Pervez Musharraf to do more to halt violence in Kashmir.

Armitage's last visit to the region, in early June, was at the height of tensions between the two nuclear-armed nations. Then, Armitage obtained a promise from Musharraf that he would end infiltration by rebels into Indian territory. Pakistan has for years provided support to militants seeking to wrest Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state, from Indian control.

Although infiltration did not stop, Indian officials concede that it declined. But in recent weeks, the Indians say, infiltration has begun to rise.

American officials are also increasingly concerned that militant groups based in an area of Kashmir under Pakistani control have been attacking political candidates, party workers and police offices in an attempt to disrupt planned elections.

In New Delhi, Armitage pushed for assurances, as had Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on his recent visit, that India would do everything it could to make sure the elections in Jammu and Kashmir state are free and fair. "There have been some difficulties historically," Armitage said, but he added he believed India would handle these elections differently.

Rigged elections in Kashmir in 1989 helped trigger the armed uprising that has taken more than 35,000 lives, according to the Indian estimate.

But Indian officials point out privately that Armitage is in a delicate position. He is calling on India to guarantee fair elections in the same week that Musharraf decreed amendments to the Pakistan constitution that call into question the fairness of its elections scheduled for October.

As to the attack reported yesterday by Pakistan, Armitage said, "I am aware that generally for the last month or so there have been exchanges of artillery fire in that area, but I have no way to verify it."

Col. Mukhtar Singh, an Indian military spokesman in Kashmir, said an exchange of artillery fire had been reported where Pakistan said the attack took place but described it as routine.

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