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Battle in Kashmir intensifies as diplomacy falters

DRAS, India -- Indian air and ground offensives intensified against guerrillas in the Himalayan region of Kashmir today, with little hope here for diplomatic efforts by Pakistan to defuse the hostilities.

For the 10th straight day, Indian jets struck the mountain positions seized by the Islamic guerrillas, who New Delhi claims are backed by Pakistan in their incursion across the cease-fire line dividing Kashmir. Pakistan denies the accusations.As a gesture to push forward high-level talks between the two nuclear powers, Pakistan released an Indian pilot it has been holding as a prisoner of war.

A smiling Flight Lt. K. Nachiketa walked into India at the Wagah border checkpoint today as about 1,500 people cheered him. Indian military officials hugged him and offered marigold garlands.

"I want to immediately go back into the fighting," the pilot told The Associated Press.

Islamabad has proposed sending its foreign minister, Sartaj Aziz, to New Delhi for talks on Monday. India has agreed to hold talks with Aziz, but has not yet agreed on a date.

Along with the airstrikes in Kashmir, the crackle of machine gun fire could be heard today from peaks above Indian military headquarters in Dras as Indian ground forces assaulted guerrilla bunkers.

Indian artillery continued shelling the guerrillas, and artillery fire hit the army base at Dras overnight.

Pakistani army officials estimate India has deployed 30,000 soldiers to dislodge the 600 militants who infiltrated the snowy peaks last month. India says it has killed around 400 guerrillas so far.