India agrees to Kashmir talks
May 31, 1999
NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee agreed to high-level talks Monday with rival Pakistan, but warned that India would not give up any ground in the disputed Kashmir region.
India is in the sixth day of what Vajpayee called a "war-like" campaign to drive Muslim rebels from strategic heights in the Himalayan territory divided between India and Pakistan.
"This is not an infiltration, but a kind of attack aimed at altering our borders," Vajpayee told businessmen in New Delhi on Monday. "We want to make it clear we don't want anybody's land. But it should be understood we will not give our land to anybody, either."
India has accused Pakistan of backing the guerrillas in Kashmir, which was split along a U.N. cease-fire line after both countries' claims to it sparked two wars. Pakistan denies the charge.
On Monday, Vajpayee agreed to let Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaz Aziz visit India at a date to be determined.
"The purpose of the talks is to find ways and means to de-escalate the situation," Aziz said Monday. "The purpose of the talks is to make the need for strikes unnecessary and counterproductive."
India and Pakistan are now at risk of a direct confrontation for the first time since they conducted tit-for-tat nuclear weapons tests last year.
Aziz's deputy, Shamshad Ahmed, told a Pakistani newspaper that Pakistan is willing to use "any weapon in our arsenal to defend our territorial integrity," although he did not refer to Kashmir directly.
However, India's Defense Minister, George Fernandes, said he was sure Pakistan's military chiefs would not resort to the use of nuclear weapons against India, because they would "liquidate" their own country in the process.
India said it had moved additional troops to reinforce the front-line ridges in the Drass-Kargil-Batalik enclave, where jets and soldiers began strafe-and-seize attacks last Wednesday on the Indian side of the boundary line.
India's army has been trying to take the uninhabited stretches from the intruders, whom it says include Pakistani army regulars and foreign mercenaries, mainly Afghans. The guerrillas used a spring thaw to occupy positions in the highlands after winter weather forced out Indian troops.
George Fernandes, India's defense minister, said Monday he wants a quick end to the campaign, but would not give any time frame.
Fernandes told Reuters that India had lost 43 men, with 173 wounded and 12 missing since the campaign began. He said Indian troops have killed 320 militants and 150 Pakistani soldiers in fighting along the cease-fire line.
The tensions worsened further last week, when India lost two MiG fighters. India claims they were flying in Indian territory, while Pakistan contends they violated Pakistani air space.
The pilot of one of those planes, squadron leader Ajay Ahuja, was killed. India claimed Sunday he was shot in the back of the head, further inflaming national passions.
India also lost a helicopter gunship and its four-man crew to a rebel shoulder-fired missile. India has now committed its most advanced fighter -- the French-built Mirage 2000 -- to the conflict.
An alliance of Kashmiri guerrilla groups said Monday it had not lost any key positions to Indian forces in the mountains.
"The Indian claim of recapturing heights is absolutely false," said the spokesman for the Muttahida Jihad Council, an umbrella group for more than a dozen guerrilla bands in Kashmir. Four of these groups are involved in the present conflict.
"Not an inch has been recaptured by India. In Sunday's ground offensive, they have suffered heavy casualties," the spokesman told Reuters. "We killed 60 soldiers, whose bodies are lying in Mishko valley."
Though Pakistan denies providing any support to the rebels, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called them "freedom fighters."
India launches major ground assault in Kashmir; talks set with Pakistan
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