India to attend regional meet in Pakistan amid Kashmir tension

An Indian paramilitary trooper stands guard during a curfew in Srinagar on Aug 1, 2016.
An Indian paramilitary trooper stands guard during a curfew in Srinagar on Aug 1, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's interior minister will travel to Pakistan for a regional gathering but will not hold bilateral talks at a time when a surge of violence in disputed Kashmir has escalated rivalry between the nuclear-armed neighbours, officials said on Monday (Aug 2).

Fifty people have been killed and more than 6,000 wounded since protests erupted in Indian-administered Kashmir after security forces killed a separatist militant leader last month.

Burhan Wani, 22, was a commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, a separatist militant group whose leader is based in Pakistan. He has been declared a martyr by officials in Islamabad while India has branded him a "terrorist".

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence over Kashmir, which each rules in part but claims in full. The line of control dividing the Himalayan region still broadly runs along the front when the guns fell silent in 1948.

Interior Minister Rajnath Singh will visit Islamabad on Aug 3 but will not have a separatemeeting with the Pakistani host of the meeting of interior ministers from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

"Pakistan easily finds a reason to start violence in Kashmir and we don't want to engage with them at this juncture," a senior interior ministry official in New Delhi said.

The Foreign Ministry in Pakistan could not be reached for comment and the Interior Ministry had no immediate comment.

Wani's death has revived separatist sentiment, violence and the absence of political engagement has heightened unease between the nations. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in May, "We are waiting for the day Kashmir becomes Pakistan."

The rivalry between India and Pakistan has hampered efforts to transform SAARC into a meaningful platform for integration in South Asia, which accounts for a fifth of the world's population but less than a tenth of its economic output.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last December made a surprise stopover in Pakistan to meet Sharif, a meeting that was seen as a refreshing gesture, but the thaw was frustrated by a New Year attack on an Indian air base that New Delhi blames on Pakistan and the latest frictions on Kashmir.