UN Secretary General urges 'maximum restraint' in India-Pakistan Kashmir row

Nuclear-armed arch-rivals caught in renewed violence following deadly attack on Indian security forces

Antonio Guterres, United Nations (UN) Secretary General, speaks at a news conference at the 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and the Government of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, February 10, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Pakistan and India should show maximum restraint to keep the crisis in Kashmir from worsening, the head of the United Nations has said.

Secretary General Antonio Guterres offered UN assistance to try to defuse the row between the nuclear-armed arch-rivals, as the Indian prime minister continued to weigh retaliation for a suicide bombing that killed at least 40 of his policemen.

The Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who is visiting India, meanwhile said his country shared New Delhi's concerns about terrorism and said the allies would increase intelligence sharing.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is coming under vocal domestic pressure to enact vengeance against Pakistan for an attack it says was backed by Islamabad.

The blast on a security convoy last week was the deadliest ever against Indian security forces in the disputed territory and was claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militant group.

Pakistan denies it was involved and has said it will cooperate if Mr Modi can show actionable evidence, but domestic anger at the scale of the death toll and Islamabad's alleged duplicity has led India to promise a “jaw-breaking response”.

The UN Secretary General urged both sides "to exercise maximum restraint and take immediate steps to de-escalate tensions," a spokesman said.

The secretary general's "good offices are available if accepted by both sides," added a spokesman for Mr Guterres.

Pakistan's foreign minister had earlier appealed for help from the UN to ease tensions, saying India blaming Pakistan before any investigation had been carried out was “absurd”.

Islamabad's envoy to Kabul appeared to further raise the stakes, saying the confrontation could affect nascent peace talks being held between America and the Taliban.

"Any attack by India will affect the stability of the entire region and impact the momentum," the ambassador, Zahid Nasrullah, told reporters in the Afghan capital.

Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan's UN Ambassador, also warned that a flare-up could harm the tentative peace efforts in Afghanistan.

"The escalation in the subcontinent poses a threat to prospects for peace in Afghanistan," she told AFP.

Mr Modi is believed to be considering a military response to the bombing, possibly including a repeat of cross-border “surgical strikes” used after another attack on Indian forces in 2016.

Yet while the scale of the attack and its proximity to a spring general election in India had put him under pressure to act decisively, analysts said India would not want to provoke retaliation from its neighbour.

India has also reached out to its allies to take its corner in the dispute and isolate Pakistan. France, Britain and the United States were said to be considering a new push at the Security Council to place Masood Azhar, the leader of JeM, on the UN terror list. China, a strong economic partner for Pakistan, is said to be resisting.

The Himalayan region of Kashmir has been a flashpoint for India and Pakistan ever since Partition and continues to dominate their relations.

The countries both claim the entire region, but rule it in part and regularly exchange artillery barrages across a heavily militarised demarcation line.

Indian-controlled Kashmir has been a hotbed of insurgency since the late 1980s and New Delhi accuses Islamabad of cultivating proxy militant groups to stoke up instability. A new cycle of violence began in 2016 and the UN has accused India of heavy-handed abuses putting down protests.