The diplomatic faceoff between India and Pakistan moved to New York with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif mounting a campaign over continued protests in Kashmir and Washington saying it was “strongly” concerned at the violence.
Sharif’s moves signalled that Pakistan might be preparing a high-voltage diplomatic offensive at this week’s UN general assembly to counter New Delhi’s plans to isolate Islamabad globally over a deadly weekend attack on an army base in Uri, Kashmir.
There was no immediate official reaction from India to the US comments. But government sources in New Delhi said they had noted the remarks, pointing out that any reference to violence in Kashmir must be seen as being incited by Pakistan. Islamabad remains a key security partner for western powers, underscoring the challenge New Delhi faces in trying to diplomatically isolate it globally.
Sunday’s attack, which killed 18 Indian soldiers, is the latest flashpoint in relations between the two countries which have struggled to normalise ties since a similar militant raid on an Indian air base in Punjab in January.
Both attacks have been blamed on the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Pakistan-based militant group that New Delhi says Islamabad is doing little to close down. Both sides have also sniped over street protests in Kashmir following the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani by security men two months ago.
Pakistan is seeking to leverage the Kashmir protests to checkmate diplomatic pressure from New Delhi over the army base attack.
Sharif raised Kashmir with British Prime Minister Theresa May and US secretary of state John Kerry on Monday, the Pakistani press reported. Neither country mentioned this in their readouts on the meetings. Even Pakistani readouts on these bilateral meetings did not mention Kashmir.
But State Department spokesperson John Kirby said Kashmir was mentioned in the meeting between Sharif and Kerry.
“The Prime Minister and secretary Kerry expressed strong concern with recent violence in Kashmir - particularly the army base attack - and the need for all sides to reduce tensions,” he said on Tuesday, adding Pakistan had also been asked to prevent all terrorists from using its territory as safe havens. The State Department has previously expressed concern over protests in Kashmir.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s opening statement to the assembly on Tuesday did not mention either the Kashmir protests or the Uri attack. Sharif had written to several world leaders, including the UN chief, about the protests in Kashmir. Sources in New Delhi said it saw Ban Ki-moon’s silence in his speech that sets the tone for the UN general assembly as a victory.
Reflecting the chill in ties, Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau chief Aftab Sultan pulled out of a meeting of Saarc security officials beginning in New Delhi on Wednesday. He will be replaced by their high commissioner to New Delhi Abdul Basit.
But a meeting of Saarc foreign ministers stands for Wednesday in New York. Minister of state for external affairs M J Akbar will attend it.
India has decided against any “knee-jerk reaction” to Sunday’s attack and, instead, backed moves to present evidence of Pakistan’s “complicity” at global fora. New Delhi also decided to push for more “terror elements” based there to be brought under UN sanctions.
Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj will also bring up the attack at the UN general assembly next week.
Politicians, army veterans and others have called for a muscular response, including air strikes on training camps on the Pakistan side of the de facto border that divides Kashmir between the two countries.
But analysts say India lacks the military capabilities to take on its neighbour, has not carried out such strikes before and runs the risk of triggering a full-scale war.