ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thurs­day expressed the hope that the recent defence agreement between US and India would not disturb the strategic balance in South Asia.

At a press briefing, Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria said: “Pakistan hopes the set arrangements do not contribute to polarising the region by disturbing the strategic balance in South Asia and escalating the arms build-up.”

Though the accord was an agreement between two sovereign countries, Pakistan hoped it would contribute to peace and stability in the region, he said.

About the Kashmir issue, Mr Zakaria said Islamabad would continue to extend support to the people in India-held Kashmir until “justice is done”.

“We will continue to extend political and diplomatic support to Kashmiris till justice is done... and the brutalities against them come to an end,” he said.

Pakistan’s efforts aimed to highlight the Kashmir cause were a “matter of commitment” for the country.

The spokesperson said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sent a letter on Wednesday to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, in response to the latter’s letter acknowledging Pakistan’s commitment to the Kashmir cause.

“The prime minister has called upon the UN secretary general to send a fact-finding mission to Kashmir, stressing that Azad Kashmir could not be compared with India-occupied Kashmir”, particularly in view of the grim human rights situation there, he said.

Mr Sharif’s letter also pointed out that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks on Balochistan were an attempt to divert international community’s attention away from the Kashmir dispute.

Turning to the nomination of parliamentarians by the prime minister to highlight the Kashmir issue abroad, Mr Zakaria said the initiative would lead to opening of an effective and direct political channel which would be in addition to the efforts being made by diplomats and envoys.

He said Pakistan was prepared to hold dialogue with India whenever the latter was ready. However, he stressed that Kashmir issue should be part of the agenda for such talks.

“We cannot accept preconditions for talks,” he said when his attention was drawn to the statement of Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj that India would not engage with Pakistan unless it handed over those involved in the Pathankot terrorist attack.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2016