India is ready to send its top diplomat to Pakistan for talks focused on fighting cross-border terrorism, sources at India’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday, after a spike in tension in the disputed northernmost region of Kashmir.
Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was willing to attend talks on the invitation of his Pakistani counterpart, the sources said, stressing that cross-border terrorism was central to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir state.
The olive branch comes after 40 days of violent protests in Indian-ruled Kashmir that were sparked by the killing by security forces of a field commander of Pakistan-based Islamic militant group Hizbul Mujahideen who enjoyed wide support.
At least 64 people have died and thousands been injured in clashes with security forces that have been denounced by Pakistan, which also claims the right to rule Jammu & Kashmir in a territorial dispute that dates back to partition in 1947.
The Indian sources, who declined to be identified, made it clear, however, that India “rejects in their entirety the self-serving allegations regarding the situation in J&K, which is an integral part of India.”
Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is the name of India’s only Muslim-majority state that includes the disputed Kashmir region.
No comment was immediately available from Pakistan’s foreign ministry.
A top U.N. human rights official expressed “deep regret” at the failure of both the Indian and Pakistani authorities to grant access to the separate parts of Kashmir that each run to investigate allegations of serious human rights violations.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement issued in Geneva it was unfortunate that sincere attempts by the United Nations to independently assess the facts in relation to reports of human rights violations had failed.
“Without access, we can only fear the worst,” said Zeid.
The nuclear-armed neighbours, which have fought three wars since independence in 1947, both claim Kashmir in full but rule it in part.
In the latest violence on Wednesday, militants killed three members of the Indian security forces when they ambushed an army convoy and then fired on a police jeep that came to the scene.
In a worrying escalation the previous day, Indian security forces fired live rounds at a crowd of stone-throwing protesters in Kashmir’s Baramulla district, killing five and wounding 10.
Earlier, police and troops trying to control crowds had resorted to the use of shotguns, whose pellets are meant to incapacitate but not kill.
But residents of Kashmir say the shotguns have inflicted severe injuries and even blinded hundreds of people including bystanders.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ratcheted up tensions in his annual Independence Day speech on Monday, accusing Pakistan of glorifying terrorism.
In a tit-for-tat escalation in the war of words between the nuclear-armed neighbours, Modi said he had received messages of support from leaders in restive regions of Pakistan, in particular the troubled southwestern province of Baluchistan.
India accuses Muslim Pakistan of supporting Kashmiri fighters while Pakistan accuses India of meddling in Pakistani trouble spots, in particular of helping separatists fighting the Pakistani state in resource-rich Baluchistan.
Both sides deny the accusations.