by Ayaz Gul

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - A senior American diplomat says the United States wants India and Pakistan to restore a mutual truce in Kashmir to de-escalate tensions over the disputed Himalayan region.

The statement by Alice Wells, the outgoing principal deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, comes as Indian and Pakistani troops are locked in almost daily skirmishes across their de facto Kashmir border, known as the Line of Control.

On Thursday, Islamabad said it had again summoned a senior Indian diplomat to the foreign ministry to protest continued alleged cease-fire violations by India’s military forces resulting in fresh civilian casualties in the Pakistani-ruled part of Kashmir.

Intensified hostilities between the nuclear-armed rival nations over the past year have rendered ineffective a mutual 2003 Kashmir truce and raised fears the tensions could escalate into a broader conflict between Pakistan and India. The nations have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir, which remains the primary source of regional tensions. Both India and Pakistan claim the region in full.

“We certainly support practical steps that India and Pakistan can take to reduce tensions such as restoring the 2003 Line of Control cease-fire while continuing to press Pakistan to take credible steps to dismantle terrorist groups,” Wells told a seminar Wednesday through video link organised by Washington-based Atlantic Council.

For its part, India alleges Pakistani troops commit cease-fire violations to help militants trying to infiltrate Indian-Kashmir to foment separatist violence there, charges Islamabad rejects.

US-Pakistan Ties

Wells noted in her speech that the Trump administration’s "broader and healthier engagement” with Pakistan has encouraged the South Asian country to take “constructive” steps to counter regional terrorism.

“I welcome the important statements that Prime Minister Khan issued, that there is no role for non-state actors, that anybody who crosses the border into Kashmir is an enemy of Pakistan and an enemy of Kashmiris,” noted the American diplomat.

Wells hailed the recent prosecution and conviction of an Islamic cleric in Pakistan who is accused of masterminding the 2008 deadly attacks in Mumbai. Washington has offered a reward of $10 million to bring the cleric, Hafiz Saeed, to justice, though he denies the charges.

“I don’t term these steps irreversible, but they are important steps,” Wells said. She also noted economic regulations recently enacted by Pakistani officials to counter money laundering and curb terrorist financing to groups involved in cross-border terrorism.

A traditionally strained relationship between India and Pakistan has deteriorated since last August when New Delhi unilaterally stripped autonomy of Indian-administered part of Kashmir and imposed a strict security lockdown, coupled with a communications blockade in the majority-Muslim state to deter dissent. The restrictions have since been partially eased.

Islamabad rejected the move, saying Kashmir is an internationally recognised dispute under a United Nations Security Council resolution and neither side could unilaterally alter the status. India has rebutted the criticism, describing its Kashmir-related measures as an internal matter. 

Afghan Peace And FATF

Wells also praised Pakistan’s “important” role in facilitating U.S. efforts to end the war in Afghanistan, America’s longest, and promote a political reconciliation between the Taliban insurgency and other Afghan groups.

This role is believed to have given Pakistan crucial backing of Washington at global financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, in order to borrow much-needed funding for the country’s struggling economy.

Pakistani officials say U.S. support also played a role in securing much-needed relief from the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global watchdog against money laundering and terrorist financing.

The FATF has placed Pakistan on its watch list of countries with weak regulations to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing. It requires Islamabad to complete all tasks in a proposed action plan to avoid being blacklisted by FATF, which would make international business dealings almost impossible for Pakistan.