UNITED NATIONS (AP) — China’s U.N. ambassador warned Wednesday against further escalation between India and Pakistan over the disputed Kashmir region and expressed hope that a Security Council meeting called by Beijing will encourage both countries to seek a solution through dialogue.
Zhang Jun, whose country supports Pakistan, told several reporters after the closed meeting that China remains “concerned about the situation on the ground” in Kashmir.
“I’m sure the meeting will be a help in both parties to understand the risk of further escalation and encourage them to approach to each other and to have dialogue and to seek means to seek solutions through dialogue,” Zhang said.
The latest flareup was sparked by the decision of India's Hindu nationalist-led government to end Muslim-majority Kashmir's semi-autonomous status on August 5. The move was accompanied by a harsh crackdown, with New Delhi sending tens of thousands of additional troops to the already heavily militarized region, imposing a sweeping curfew, arresting thousands and cutting virtually all communications.
Authorities have since eased several restrictions, lifting roadblocks and restoring landlines and cellphone services, but Internet service is yet to be restored in the Kashmir valley. India’s action sparked protests, and last Friday the country's top court ordered the government to review all restrictions within a week, saying the measures amounted to abuse of power.
Council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because Wednesday's meeting was closed, said China wanted a review of the U.N. observer mission in Kashmir. But the overwhelming number of countries on the 15-member council urged deescalation and said the dispute is bilateral and should be resolved by India and Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters late Wednesday after meeting U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that some measures taken by India after Aug. 5 have caused heightened tensions and are threatening international peace and security in south Asia. The situation is “very delicate and could spin out of control,” he warned.
He said it is India — not Pakistan — that has refused talks.
“Pakistan has never shied away from a bilateral engagement, but unfortunately the Indians are not prepared to engage,” Qureshi said, noting that as soon as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan came to power in August 2018, he made overtures to India which were unfortunately rebuffed.
The Pakistani minister said the fact that the Security Council discussed Kashmir for the second time in five months is a clear indication that the U.N.’s most powerful body recognizes the issue is on their agenda — “and the impression that India tries to give that this is an internal matter is not correct.”
Qureshi said secretary-general Gutteres was concerned and knows “the issue cannot be shoved under the carpet.” The U.N. chief's spokesman said in a brief statement after the meeting that Guterres “reiterated the importance of maintaining peace and stability in South Asia through political dialogue, diplomatic solutions and respect for human rights."
Even though Security Council members said Kashmir should be discussed and resolved bilaterally, Qureshi said, ïf the issue is allowed to fester the way it is festering, then it can grow into a situation which is untenable and willy nilly they will have to step in.”
Kashmir became an issue at the end of British colonial rule in 1947 when the Indian subcontinent was divided into predominantly Hindu India and mainly Muslim Pakistan and its future was left unresolved. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over control of Kashmir, which had been a Muslim-majority kingdom ruled by a Hindu maharaja.
The first war ended in 1948 with a U.N.-brokered cease-fire that left Kashmir divided, with the promise of a U.N.-sponsored referendum on its "final disposition" that has never been held.
The U.N. sent military observers to supervise the cease-fire in January 1949 and following renewed hostilities in 1971 the U.N. mission has remained in the area to observe developments and report to the secretary-general — not to the Security Council as other peacekeeping missions do.
The Security Council held its first closed consultations on Kashmir since 1971 following India’s surprise action in August to change the Himalayan region's status.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training insurgents fighting for Kashmir's independence from India or its merger with Pakistan. Pakistan denies the charge and says it offers only diplomatic and moral support to the rebels.