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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

India, Pakistan to Talk as Kashmir Clashes Rise

Pakistan has warned that "any weapon'' in its arsenal - which includes nuclear weapons - could be used to defend itself against neighboring India, according to newspaper reports on Monday.

The warning came against a backdrop of blistering artillery barrages along the disputed Kashmir border that killed 15 Pakistani civilians overnight Sunday, and more Indian airstrikes against rebel positions in the Kargil hills on its side of the Kashmir divide.

"We will not hesitate to use any weapon in our arsenal to defend our territorial integrity,'' Shamshad Ahmed, the No. 2 man at the Foreign Ministry, was quoted as saying by the independent English-language The News.

Uneasy relations between Pakistan and India plummeted last week when Indian jet fighters launched an air campaign against Moslem secessionists in the Kargil mountains on their side of the disputed border.

India launched the sixth day of attacks Monday against what it said were Pakistan-backed intruders on its side of the line dividing Kashmir.

Indian jets strafed the hillside positions and moved more troops in to bolster Delhi's offensive in the disputed territory.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said the situation was "war-like" and accused India's arch-foe Pakistan of pushing forward the cease-fire line.

But his government accepted an offer of talks with Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz intended to defuse the worst crisis between the two new nuclear powers in nearly three decades.

"At this time the nation faces a war-like situation. This is not an infiltration, but a kind of attack aimed at altering our borders," Vajpayee told a delegation of small businessmen at his official residence.

"We don't want anybody's land, but we won't let anyone take our land," he said. "We want peace but it cannot be one sided."

At a meeting Monday of Islamic clerics in the eastern Punjab capital, Lahore, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accused India of "ruthlessly killing innocent Kashmiri people'' and said the militants were "freedom fighters,'' not extremists or terrorists. At their training camps in Pakistan-ruled Kashmir the militant organizations espouse a rigid interpretation of Islam, the same as the Taliban religious army, next door in Afghanistan.

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 military Line of Control.

The line divides the one-third of Kashmir ruled by Pakistan from the two-thirds controlled by India.

"We are giving a befitting reply," Vajpayee said. "They are trying to push the Line of Control toward us."

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, armed with deadly Stinger missiles.

"Direct confrontation is on in some sectors," Vajpayee said.

Vajpayee said infiltrators had made use of the summer, when the Himalayan snows melt, to inhabit the peaceful ridges.

India accuses Pakistan of arming guerrillas in Kashmir, a charge Islamabad routinely denies. The countries have fought two wars over Kashmir since their independence from Britain in 1947.

While keeping up its offensive, India had decided to accept an offer from Pakistan to send Foreign Minister Aziz for talks.

"The dates for the Pakistan foreign minister's visit will be worked out through diplomatic channels," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Earlier, Aziz told Reuters Television that he was awaiting news on the talks expected later this week.