Islamabad, Pakistan – The United Nations secretary general has expressed “deep concern” at heightened tensions between South Asian neighbours India and Pakistan over the disputed region of Kashmir, calling for India to respect “human rights and fundamental freedoms” when dealing with discontent in the territory.
Antonio Guterres made the remarks addressing a news conference after meeting with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad on Sunday.
“I have repeatedly stressed the importance of exercising maximum restraint and taking steps to de-escalate both militarily and verbally, while reiterating my offer to exercise my good offices should both sides ask,” said Guterres.
Speaking at an international conference on refugees on Monday, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan welcomed the comments and called on the UN to do more to intervene over the issue of Kashmir.
“If the United Nations does not play its part, this could become one of the flashpoints in the world,” he said at an event where he spoke alongside the UN chief. “Not to alarm you, but prevention is better than cure.”
Pakistan has long invited the international community to involve itself in the Kashmir dispute, which India says is a bilateral issue.
But the two sides have not held any talks since last February, when the two nuclear-armed neighbours almost went to war over Kashmir issue.
They have fought two of their three wars since gaining independence in 1947 over the mountainous region, and while both claim it in full, they currently administer separate portions of it.
India has rejected previous offers by US President Donald Trump to mediate in the dispute, and swiftly rejected Guterres’ offer hours after he spoke, saying India considers the entire territory to be “an integral part of India”.
“Further issues, if any, would be discussed bilaterally. There is no role or scope for third-party mediation,” said Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar in a statement.
Guterres called for the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir, which date back to 1948, calling for a plebiscite to be held among Kashmiri residents on whether they would join India or Pakistan.
In February last year, a suicide attack on an Indian security forces convoy in the Indian-administered Kashmir town of Pulwama killed more than 40 people.
India blamed Pakistan, with the resulting military standoff seeing both nuclear-armed countries carrying out air raids on each others’ territory and an Indian fighter jet shot down in an aerial dogfight.
The threat of war dissipated after Pakistan returned the pilot of the downed jet days later, but tensions have remained high, with frequent artillery fire and mortar shelling across the Line of Control that divides Indian-administered and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Last August, India revoked a special constitutional status accorded to Indian-administered Kashmir, merging it into its political and administrative mainstream, a move decried by Pakistan as being antithetical to the resolution of the continuing territorial dispute.
Since then, Indian-administered Kashmir’s approximately eight million residents have been subject to widespread security curfews and communications and transport blockades.
Pakistan has frequently accused India of widespread rights violations as part of those security measures. Independent rights monitors and foreign journalists have been barred from visiting Indian-administered Kashmir.
“When we see situations of discontent and unrest [in Indian-administered Kashmir], it is of utmost importance to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” said Guterres.