China hopes UNSC meet spurs India-Pakistan talks on Kashmir

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UN Security Council members hold rare “closed consultations,” called by Beijing, on disputed Kashmir where New Delhi is accused of abuses against its mostly-Muslim population.

Kashmiri women shout pro-independence slogans during the funeral of top rebel commander Umar Fayaz in village Tral, south of Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir, Monday, Jan 13, 2020.
Kashmiri women shout pro-independence slogans during the funeral of top rebel commander Umar Fayaz in village Tral, south of Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir, Monday, Jan 13, 2020. (AP)

China’s UN envoy warned on 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 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.

After the meeting, senior Russian diplomat Dmitry Polyanskiy said the 15-nation body had discussed the contentious India-administered region, where New Delhi has been accused of abuses against its mostly-Muslim population.

“UNSC discussed Kashmir in closed consultations,” Polyanskiy said in a tweet to his nearly 6,000 followers shortly after the discussions ended on Wednesday.

“Russia firmly stands for the normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan. We hope that differences between them will be settled through bilateral efforts based on the 1972 Simla Agreement and the 1999 Lahore Declaration.”

According to reports, France, an ally of India, had opposed China’s request to hold the closed-door talks on the dispute.

Autonomy loss

India’s Hindu nationalist-led government ended Muslim-majority Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status on August 5, key to the region’s conditional accession — disputed by Pakistan and detested by the majority of Kashmiris — by its then Hindu ruler with India in 1947.

The move was accompanied by a harsh crackdown, with New Delhi sending tens of thousands of additional troops to the already heavily militarised 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 fully 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 an abuse of power.

China has supported Pakistan, India’s arch-rival, in opposing New Delhi’s downgrading of Kashmir’s limited-autonomy and continuing restrictions in the disputed region.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was scheduled to meet UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at UN headquarters later Wednesday.

UN observers in Kashmir

Council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because Wednesday’s meeting was closed, said China wanted a review of the UN observer mission in Kashmir. But the overwhelming number of countries on the 15-member council urged de-escalation and said the dispute is bilateral and should be resolved by India and Pakistan.

At the end of British colonial rule in 1947, the Indian subcontinent was divided into predominantly Hindu India and mainly Muslim Pakistan. They 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 UN-brokered ceasefire that left Kashmir divided, with the promise of a UN-sponsored referendum on its “final disposition” that has never been held.

The UN sent military observers to supervise the ceasefire in January 1949 and following renewed hostilities in 1971 the UN 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.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir’s mostly Muslim population and most people support the rebels’ cause against Indian rule. Nearly 100,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown since 1989.

The Indian military has been accused of suppressing the Kashmiri uprising using brutal tactics, including the infamous pellet guns, which have wounded or blinded many Kashmiris.

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