ISLAMABAD, May 29 (Reuters) - Pakistan said on Saturday it planned to send its foreign minister to India for talks to ease growing tensions in the disputed Kashmir region, where it reported a "relative quiet" along a military control line.
"He will be there next week, God willing," Information Minister Mushahid Hussain told a news conference about the proposed visit by Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz in what Islamabad called a "major diplomatic initiative" to defuse the situation.
"This initiative of the Prime Minister (Nawaz Sharif) is a concrete manifestation of his firm commitment to the peace process..." a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. "We are now awaiting the Indian response."
Hussain earlier told Reuters that Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had accepted Sharif's offer during a telephone call between the two on Friday to send Aziz to New Delhi for substantive talks with his Indian counterpart.
"The Indian prime minister has accepted this offer... The dates are being finalised through diplomatic channels. I would expect him to go there early next week," he said.
Hussain was speaking before India announced that its jet fighters had launched air strikes on militants dug into mountains in northern Kashmir along the Line of Control for the fourth day.
He later said at the news conference that the reported drop in Indian military activity could be the result of Sharif's telephone call to Vajpayee and to the shooting down of two Indian jet fighters on Thursday.
"Since yesterday...there has been a relative
quiet till today," Pakistan army spokesman Brigadier Rashid Qureshi said.
However, he said exchanges of artillery fire between Indian and Pakistani troops had taken place, but was "less than yesterday's."
But police in the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir said three civilians were killed and five wounded by Indian mortar and machine-gun fire.
Qureshi said the Pakistani side noticed some Indian aircraft flying at high altitudes in northern Kashmir but added they did not rocket or strafe positions on the Pakistani side.
India rules two-thirds and Pakistan the rest of Kashmir, over which the countries have fought two of their three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947.
Hussain said Sharif's telephone call to Vajpayee on Friday -- to return one made by the Indian premier on Monday -- "probably had a salutary effect on the situation" in Kashmir.
"The turning point was the downing of the two (Indian) planes, the next day was better than the earlier day, and today after yesterday's telephone call, it's better.
"So we feel it's good. We did not start it. We know who started it. We are glad that they are tapering it off, if that is what is happening, and I think that's positive," he said.
Hussain also confirmed the body of an Indian pilot whose jet Islamabad says was shot down by its army when it "intruded" into Pakistan's air space was returned on Friday.
The nuclear rivals are in their worst direct confrontation in nearly three decades after Indian forces earlier this week began attacking what they say are Pakistani-backed infiltrators on the Indian side of Kashmir.
Indian Major-General J.J. Singh told a news briefing
on Saturday that an "intruder" killed on India's side of the LoC, named as sepoy
Abdul Ayub, had a document that proved "beyond doubt" the Pakistan's army was
involved in the infiltrations.
But Qureshi rejected the charge as "absolutely false," saying all 17 men with that name in that battalion were "all accounted for."