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August 14, 2013

Pakistani PM Calls for Defusing Kashmir Tensions

by Ayaz Gul

Pakistan’s prime minister says Islamabad and New Delhi will have to “defuse tension and de-escalate the situation” in the disputed Kashmir region, following days of firing across the military line of control. Nawaz Sharif spoke to reporters after talks with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Sharif said that as part of Pakistan’s efforts to promote regional peace and stability, he wants to ease tensions with India and begin a dialogue to address bilateral issues, including the territorial dispute over Kashmir.

His remarks came as the Pakistani military on Wednesday accused Indian troops of launching a fresh round of shelling along the disputed Kashmir border, called the Line of Control. Pakistani military sources reported at least one civilian had been killed in what they called “unprovoked” attacks. Indian authorities earlier accused Pakistani forces of similar attacks that killed five Indian soldiers.

Speaking alongside the U.N. secretary-general, Sharif said he and Ban had discussed the current tensions.  

“We hope that the U.N. will play its due role in resolving the Kashmir dispute," he said. "The escalation of tensions along the Line of Control is a matter of concern for us and the secretary-general. Pakistan will continue to respond to the situation with restraint and responsibility in the hope that steps will be taken by India to help reduce tensions. We have to defuse tension and de-escalate the situation. Our objective is peace. For that what we need is more diplomacy.”

The U.N. secretary-general praised Prime Minister Sharif’s efforts to establish peace in the region, without referring to Pakistan’s tensions with India.

“I whole heartedly welcome all [your] efforts to tackle serious challenges at home and strengthen relations with your neighbors,” he said.

The Kashmir conflict dates back to 1947 when India and Pakistan gained independence from British colonial rule. Both countries claim the Himalayan region in its entirety. The dispute is blamed for causing two of their three wars and in 1999 again brought the nuclear-armed rivals to the brink of war.

There have been resolutions pending in the United Nations for more than six decades that propose a plebiscite allowing people on both sides of the frontier to decide whether they want to join Pakistan or India. But Islamabad and New Delhi in recent years have held peace talks to resolve the dispute bilaterally.

As part of those efforts, both sides declared a cease-fire on the line of control in 2003. The cease-fire largely held until more than a week ago when skirmishes broke out over the killing of five Indian soldiers in a remote district of Kashmir. Pakistan denies allegations its forces were responsible. 

Officials in both countries have accused each other of cease-fire violations since then, raising tensions that some worry could derail efforts to resume stalled wide-ranging peace talks.

The Kashmir escalation could also undermine an expected meeting next month between Prime Minister Sharif and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly in New York.