Srinagar, April 22: In a sudden escalation of violence after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s weekend visit to Jammu and Kashmir, at least 24 people — six civilians and 18 militants — were killed in a blast and separate gun battles between security forces and the rebels today.
Pakistan, which has been pushing for talks, said it was ready to nominate a senior official to discuss the agenda for an “unconditional and meaningful” dialogue, if India was “serious”.
“If India is indeed serious, the Government of Pakistan is ready to nominate a senior official to discuss the agenda for talks,” a Pakistan foreign office statement said in Islamabad. It also expressed Islamabad’s willingness to take the first step.
Stating that Pakistan welcomed the “positive elements” of Vajpayee’s recent speech in Srinagar, the statement said Islamabad “believed in goodwill and honest intentions. All issues can be resolved peacefully through a dialogue between India and Pakistan.”
“Pakistan places a high priority on reducing tension and normalisation of relations with India. We believe that the only way forward in the interest of the over a billion people is through sincere, unconditional, meaningful and sustained dialogue addressing the key issues bedevilling relations between the two countries and poisoning the atmosphere for peace and security in the region,” it said.Iterating Pakistan’s policy of “talks at any time, any place and any level”, the statement, however, accused Vajpayee of undermining his offer with “hackneyed allegations” of cross-border terrorism.
In Srinagar, police said the six civilians were killed and 10 seriously wounded when an improvised explosive device planted by the roadside at Gulshanpora village near Tral in southern Kashmir’s Pulwama district went off this morning as villagers were taking the cattle out for grazing.
The homemade bomb exploded when villagers crowded into a communal yard to milk their cattle, police said. “It was an improvised explosive device planted near a field and was probably meant to target security forces,” a policespokesman said.
In a clash in the dense forests of Kaka Hill near Surankote in Poonch district early this morning, 13 militants were shot dead by troops. The fighting began when a search party came under fire from the rebels.
“The operation is still continuing in the area and firing exchanges are continuing,” said a police officer from Poonch.
Security forces shot dead four more militants in a gun battle at Kalakote in Jammu’s Rajouri district. The area was cordoned off after the incident and searched, police said.
The combing operation in Kalakote is still on.