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India, Pakistan pledge to seek end to violence in Kashmir

Analysts caution against expectations for a breakthrough in relations after New York meeting between Nawaz Sharif and Manmohan Singh. Taimur Khan reports

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (L) shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the United Nations General Assembly at the New York Palace hotel in New York September 29, 2013. REUTERS/Joshua Lott (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) *** Local Caption ***  JL410_UN-ASSEMBLY-_0929_11.JPG
Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (L) shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the United Nations General Assembly at the New York Palace hotel in New York September 29, 2013. REUTERS/Joshua Lott (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) *** Local Caption *** JL410_UN-ASSEMBLY-_0929_11.JPG

NEW YORK // The leaders of Pakistan and India on Sunday agreed to find ways to end the outbreak of violence along Kashmir’s disputed border as a first step toward peace talks.

During their first meeting since Nawaz Sharif was elected Pakistani prime minister in May, Mr Sharif and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, also accepted invitations to visit the other’s countries, but no dates were set.

The pair, who met for an hour on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, decided to task senior military officers to “find effective means to restore the ceasefire” in the disputed Kashmir region, the Indian national security adviser Shivshankar Menon said.

“Both agreed that the precondition for forward movement in the relationship, which they both desire, is really an improvement of the situation on the LoC,” Mr Menon said, referring to the Line of Control that divides the Pakistan- and Indian-controlled portions of the Muslim-majority region claimed by both countries.

Mr Sharif was elected to his third term as Pakistan’s leader – the first since being ousted in a military coup in 1999 – after a campaign that focused in part on improved economic relations with India and an end to tensions between the rivals.

During his address to the General Assembly on Friday, Mr Sharif called for a “new beginning” with India and said the two countries “have wasted massive resources in an arms race”, resources that could have been used for economic and human development in the overwhelmingly poor countries.

But the meeting came a day after Mr Singh called on Pakistan to stop being “the epicentre of terrorism” in South Asia. “For progress to be made, it is imperative that the territory of Pakistan and the areas under its control are not utilised for aiding or abetting terrorism,” Mr Singh told the General Assembly.

India accuses Pakistan of backing Kashmiri separatist militants, though violence in the region has dropped sharply since the most intense years of insurgency there in the 1990s and early 2000s, when tens of thousands of civilians were killed or disappeared as Indian security forces waged war against the militants.

Recently, however, there has been an uptick in militancy and general unrest in the region. On Thursday, suspected separatist rebels raided an Indian army base and police station in Kashmir, killing 13 people including a senior army officer. The top elected official in the Indian-controlled part of the region said the attacks were aimed at derailing the peace process.

Reconciliation has moved in fits and starts over the past decade, and has largely stalled since 2008 when Pakistan-linked militants carried out a three-day attack on Mumbai that left 166 people dead.

Mr Sharif promised “there would be action” on punishing those responsible for the attacks, Mr Menon said. “As for how useful and productive the meeting was, I think the only proof will be in the months to come.”

Analysts cautioned against high expectations after Sunday’s meeting.

“The sole tangible positive outcome of the meeting is that two armies’ head of military operations will meet to restore the ceasefire on the Line of Control in Kashmir,” said Arif Rafiq, a Pakistan expert at the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

But, he said, “there will be no breakthroughs until India’s elections take place next spring”.

“Till then, both countries should aim to prevent other forces in their respective countries from fomenting instability.”

Mr Singh, 81, is expected to step down after the election, but will not want to appear soft on Pakistan before then. The main challenger to his Congress party is the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, whose controversial candidate for prime minister, Narendra Modi, is staunchly opposed to detente with Pakistan.

tkhan@thenational.ae