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Pakistan urges US to do more to help end the Kashmir standoff

India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the G20 Osaka Summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 28, 2019. (Ludovic Marin/Pool/Abaca Press/TNS)

Pakistan called on the Trump administration to do more to help ease tensions after India revoked autonomy in the disputed Muslim-majority state of Kashmir, a decision that has inflamed tensions between the two Asian powers.

“The U.S. could do and the U.S. must do more to help defuse this situation and to perhaps inject some more sanity on the Indian side,” Asad Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., said in an interview on Friday in Washington with Bloomberg News editors and reporters. “We would expect that from all our friends. It really is a question of principle.”

Pakistan’s always strained relations with its neighbor are being put to a new test after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ended seven decades of autonomy for the disputed state of Kashmir. Kashmir, in the Himalayas, has been divided between India and Pakistan since independence from British rule, and is claimed by both. Two of the nations’ three wars were fought over the territory.

The U.S. so far has largely held off from taking a stance on India’s action. Asked Thursday about India’s move, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said only that U.S. policy toward Kashmir hasn’t changed and that the U.S. is “incredibly engaged in southeast Asia.”

While Khan criticized the tepid response from the U.S., he was quick to point out that Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan “really hit it off very well” with President Donald Trump during his visit to Washington last month. Trump made an off-the-cuff offer then to mediate on Kashmir, an idea India quickly rejected.

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“Frankly, the U.S. could have made or should have made a stronger statement,” Khan said of this week’s response. “As a major proponent of human rights, as the world’s leading democracy and also as the preeminent power today in the world, I think the kind of repression that we are seeing is something that warrants a strong response from the United States.”

In response to Modi’s decision, Pakistan on Wednesday announced measures to oppose what it called “unilateral and illegal actions” by India. The ambassador said Pakistan will review bilateral agreements, take the matter to the U.N. Security Council and ensure its army remains vigilant.

“We would not look to escalate, but we will respond in a very befitting manner if there is any violation of our territory,” Khan said. “I see more violence in the valley.”

Indian troops’ actions have the effect of “turning the whole valley into perhaps the largest prison in the world,” Khan added in an interview on Bloomberg Television. Pakistan is prepared for any aggression from India, but Islamabad is not “going to be the one who would resort to any action” to endanger peace in the region, he said.

The Indian government said on Friday that it was time for Pakistan to accept the decision to abolish seven decades of autonomy in the disputed region. The move is entirely the internal affair of India and Pakistan should stop interfering, Raveesh Kumar, a spokesman for India’s foreign ministry, said in a briefing in New Delhi.

Khan, however, warned that “the international community will be witnessing the genocide of the Kashmiris” once a curfew is lifted.

A suicide bombing in Kashmir in February that killed 40 Indian paramilitary troops strained ties. An exchange of airstrikes followed that attack. India accuses Pakistan of supporting armed extremists in Kashmir, its only Muslim-dominated state. Pakistan denies the charges and says it offers only moral support to separatists.

“All this is happening at a time when we have a government and prime minister who is completely committed to seeking peace,” Khan said. “We have done whatever we could do to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan.”

The Trump administration has been counting on help from Pakistan in its peace talks with the Taliban over an end to the war in Afghanistan, the longest in America’s history. The U.S. wants Pakistan to use its full leverage with the Taliban. Much of the group’s leadership is believed to be located in semi-autonomous areas on Pakistan’s side of the border with Afghanistan.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy for Afghan reconciliation, is seeking an agreement providing for the gradual withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces if the Taliban provide assurances that terrorist groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaida aren’t permitted to stage attacks from Afghan territory.

“If you had asked me in December last year to kind of speculate or predict about a day where the U.S. and Taliban would sit in the same room for weeks to discuss, I think that has been a difficult process, but I must say that I think Ambassador Khalilzad has done a good job of a bad hand,” Khan said Friday. “There is certainly a more comfort level on all sides.”

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© 2019 Bloomberg News

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