India and Pakistan to fight on

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TALKS BETWEEN India and Pakistan on the "Kargil War", as this month's clashes in Kashmir have begun to be called, went according to expectation yesterday - in a long tradition of fruitless diplomatic exchanges, the two sides re-stated their positions.

"There was no dialogue as such," Jaswant Singh, the Indian Foreign Minister, said last night. "To call it a dialogue would be a misnomer." And the war goes on.

The Pakistani Foreign Minister, Sartaj Aziz, flew to Delhi yesterday for meetings with Mr Singh and the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee. But any dim hope that the discussions might lead to an easing of tensions was scuppered on Thursday night when Pakistan Army troops returned to India the bodies of six Indian Army soldiers. All, India claimed, had been tortured and mutilated.

In a stern and emotional press briefing on Friday, Mr Singh gave details of some of the injuries the soldiers received. "The soldiers were tortured and tortured repeatedly," he charged. He demanded that "the perpetrators be brought to justice", in addition to the Indian government's insistence that Pakistan withdraw its forces back to the Pakistani side of the Line of Control (LoC), Kashmir's de facto border.

During a 70-minute meeting held in what India called a "serious and business- like atmosphere", Mr Singh put these demands to Mr Aziz, who in turn called on India to halt both its air strikes and artillery firing. He also denied Pakistani involvement in the mutilation and torture of Indian soldiers.

India has been trying to force the infiltrators out for more than a month, and for the past three weeks Indian MiG fighters have attacked the enemy positions almost daily. India yesterday claimed that 267 Pakistani soldiers had been killed so far in what India calls "Operation Vijay". Delhi said its own losses amounted to 86 dead, 220 wounded and eight missing.

The mood in India has been growing steadily grimmer as the toll of casualties rises. Now that India is out of cricket's World Cup - it beat Pakistan soundly but was squeezed out, to everyone's disgust, after Pakistan whipped Zimbabwe - the usual relationship with its neighbour, in equal parts rivalry and loathing, has given way to something more sombre.

The return of the mutilated corpses has accelerated that process. "Kick them where it hurts most," ran the headline over a comment piece in yesterday's Asian Age newspaper, urging a drastic escalation of the conflict.