India to attend regional meet in Pakistan amid Kashmir tension

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. At least 50 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 separate meeting 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. However, the head of an anti-Indian militant movement in Pakistani-administered Kashmir decried the Indian minister's visit as well as Pakistan's allowing him to attend the summit. "India has let loose a reign of terror in the occupied territory, massacring unarmed civilians with impunity on a daily basis," Syed Salahuddin, head of the Hizb ul Mujahideen militants, told Reuters by telephone. "Pakistan should have suspended if not severed diplomatic ties with India. However, they are rubbing salt in the wounds of the Kashmiris by welcoming the Indian home minister here." 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. (Reporting by Rupam Jain in New Delhi, Asad Hashim in Islamabad, and Abu Arqam Naqash in Muzaffarabad. Editing by Douglas Busvine)