WASHINGTON: The United Nations and the United States are both urging India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute through dialogue, as concerns about tensions in a nuclear-armed region grow.
“When you have two nuclear powers that have fought military conflicts under a nuclear umbrella, it is important that all avenues be explored to increase contact and communication between the two sides,” a senior US official told journalists on Thursday evening.
At a similar briefing, US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Wells asked India for a roadmap on restoring normality in held Kashmir and sought the release of politicians detained since its Aug 5 annexation.
In New York, a UN spokesman said Secretary General Antonio Guterres believed that dialogue between India and Pakistan “is absolute essential” for resolving the Kashmir dispute and his good offices were available if both sides needed help to engage with each other.
The appeals came days after dozens of US lawmakers expressed concern at the increasingly tense situation in India-held Kashmir at a congressional hearing in Washington and emphasised the need for Delhi and Islamabad to resolve it peacefully.
India, however, continues to reject offers to mediate, insisting that Kashmir is its internal matter.
Despite the Indian rejection, UN secretary general and US President Donald Trump have both repeatedly offered to help reduce tensions between two nuclear-armed neighbours.
On Thursday, Washington once again made it clear that New Delhi’s refusal to accept mediation cannot prevent the American president from underlining the need for a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue.
The US official, who briefed the media on the situation in Kashmir, said: “It’s possible to have a dialogue and the United States encourages the countries to engage as two nuclear powers living side by side.” President Trump, he added, has remained engaged with leaders of both the countries.
The current tensions followed India’s decision to annex the occupied Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcate it into two union territories. New Delhi also imposed curfew, cut off communication and imposed other restrictions to prevent a popular backlash against the decision.
Secretary General Guterres believes that any solution to the 70-year-old dispute must be rooted in respect for human rights of the Kashmiri people, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
“The secretary general... has discussed the issue of Kashmir with the prime minister of Pakistan, with the prime minister of India, during the General Assembly and before,” he said, adding that he was willing to help them talk, if they needed support.
The US official said that Washington will continue to encourage both nations to create an atmosphere that allows constructive dialogue. He pointed out that President Trump has expressed interest in facilitating a solution, but India rejected the suggestion.
“That doesn’t mean that the US is not actively encouraging that a dialogue take place and that an atmosphere for constructive dialogue between the two countries be established,” he said.
The official hailed the signing of an agreement on Kartarpur Corridor as a welcome confidence-building measure which will help increase people-to-people contact.
“While it’s a small step, we need more like this to also create the will, the goodwill and the environment for constructive dialogue,” the official said.
“We continue to press for the release of detainees for the full restoration of everyday services, but most importantly, for roadmap to the restoration of political and economic normalcy,” Assistant Secretary Wells said.
She said that India’s Aug 5 decision had severely impacted the daily life of nearly eight million residents while Indian authorities have detained many Kashmiri leaders without charge. “We are deeply concerned,” she added.
Ms Wells said that terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Hizbul Mujahideen “obviously are the problem” because they were against India-Pakistan dialogue.
“In this vein, we welcome Prime Minister (Imran) Khan’s unambiguous statement in September that anyone who crosses from Pakistan to carry out violence in [held] Kashmir are enemies of both Pakistan and the Kashmiri people,” she added.
“The constructive dialogue that we’d like to see between India and Pakistan must be based on Pakistan taking sustained and irreversible steps against militants and terrorists in its territory,” Ms Wells said.
Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2019