NEW DELHI, India -- India and Pakistan failed to agree on a date for peace talks Saturday for the disputed Kashmir region, where ground forces were locked in combat and Indian artillery targeted separatist rebels.
Pakistan's offer to send Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz to New Delhi on Monday "is not convenient," said Raminder Singh Jassal, an Indian foreign ministry spokesman. India would soon suggest alternative dates, he said.The delay may be an Indian attempt to gain ground in the Kashmir battle and negotiate from a position of strength.
In Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Cabinet flayed the Indian crackdown on the insurgents entrenched in the mountain peaks of Kashmir. Pakistan pledged "full moral, diplomatic and political support" to Kashmiris fighting for what it called their right to self-determination.
India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars during the past 52 years over the Himalayan province. India controls two-thirds of Kashmir, Pakistan the rest, and both claim all of it.
India says the guerrillas who infiltrated into India last month are Afghan mercenaries and Pakistani soldiers in plainclothes. Pakistan denies its soldiers are involved.
The army Saturday released photocopies of identity cards of three dead Pakistani soldiers -- described by officers as concrete evidence that regular Pakistani soldiers are among the intruders.
In New Delhi, India's Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh said airstrikes and ground attacks would continue until the last of the intruders from Pakistan was evicted from the Indian side of Kashmir.
"The intruders must be immediately withdrawn or else they will be evicted. This is the only issue on which we can have talks (with Pakistan)," Singh told state-run Doordarshan television.
India says the intruders are holding at least eight strategic peaks that dominate the Kargil district, 440 miles north of New Delhi. The Indians claim to have cleared 10 other peaks of intruders since early May.
The Indian army sealed the battle zone off from all civilians Saturday, suggesting an escalation in fighting. Officials said journalists could no longer travel freely on the northern Kargil highway, where the fighting was taking place.
Until now, journalists carrying army-issued passes and a few civilian supply trucks were the only nonmilitary traffic allowed into the area.
"In the past 24 hours, the ground forces have been able to further close in on the positions occupied by the armed intruders," Brig. Mohan Bhandari, the military spokesman, told reporters in New Delhi.
Artillery batteries on Saturday continued to pound the heights seized by the guerrillas as the air force took a break in its 10-day-old airstrikes. Ground forces remained locked in close combat.
"Airstrikes can't take place when the ground assault is imminent," said Group Captain K. Rajaram, an Indian air force spokesman.