ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan made a new offer in its long and bitter dispute with India over Kashmir, saying for the first time that it will not oppose one-on-one talks between Kashmiri separatists and the Indian government.
The statement was a significant concession from Pakistan, which in the past has said it must be included in any negotiations on Kashmir, a Himalayan region that has been a focus of bitter contention with India for decades.
The offer comes amid renewed violence in Indian-ruled Kashmir, where an explosion Monday near a bus station in Baramullah killed one soldier and injured several others. Four civilians were also hurt, officials said.
Hezb-ul Mujahedeen, a militant group headquartered in Pakistan, took responsibility and claimed 10 Indian soldiers were killed. Islamic militants have rejected all cease-fire offers, while the political wing of the Kashmiri secessionist movement has welcomed them.
In an interview Monday with The Associated Press, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Riaz Khan said it would accept bilateral talks as long they lead to three-way negotiations involving Pakistan, India and the Kashmiris.
Khan called the statement an "important initiative" and said Pakistan wants three-way talks to start "immediately after Ramadan," the Muslim holy month that began last week.
Since India gave the subcontinent independence in 1947, India and Pakistan have both claimed all of Kashmir and have fought two wars over it. A 1972 cease-fire line divided Kashmir between the two countries, most of it going to India.
Pakistan-based rebels have been waging a violent insurgency since 1989, fighting to carve out a separate homeland or merge Indian-controlled Kashmir, which now forms the predominantly Hindu country's only mostly Muslim state, with Islamic Pakistan. At least 30,000 people have been killed.
Pakistan's statement that it would accept bilateral talks came two days after it offered a truce along the border with India in Kashmir, where tens of thousands of soldiers from both countries are deployed.
The opposing armies routinely engage in cross border gunbattles.
A border conflict last year threatened to escalate into all-out war. Both India and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons, and a nervous international community has been pressing for a peaceful resolution to their protracted dispute.
The concession also came almost a week into India's unilateral cease-fire in its campaign against the insurgents, which took effect with the advent of Ramadan and is to last through the holy month.
Kashmir's separatist political alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, welcomed India's cease-fire as chance to seek peace talks, but the Pakistan-based guerrillas rejected it as a propaganda move and have been blamed for several deadly attacks since it began.
India has refused to hold talks with Pakistan, which it accuses of arming and training the Kashmiri rebels based on its territory. On Sunday, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes said his country would not hold talks with Pakistan until Pakistan puts a stop to cross-border terrorism.
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