UK Calls For Lasting Solution To Kashmir Dispute

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Islamabad: British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Thursday urged long time rivals India and Pakistan to resume a stalled peace process and look for a permanent solution to the decades-long dispute over divided Kashmir.

At a press conference in Islamabad with his Pakistani counterpart,Johnson called for an end to the violence in the disputed Himalayan region, where in recent months there have been frequent clashes along the dividing boundary, known as the Line of Control.

"Of course we are concerned about recent incidents on both sides of the Line of Control in Kashmir and we call for an end to the violence," he said. "Look at the incredible human potential of Pakistan and its neighbours and then imagine what the future could be like if this was sorted out."

But, he added, it was not for Britain to "prescribe a solution or act as a mediator" over the "disputed" region.

Johnson said "we are concerned about recent incidents on both sides of the Line of Control" and called for a solution, taking into account the aspirations of the Kashmiri people.

On his first trip to Pakistan since taking his role in the British government, Johnson said the countries had not fully exploited opportunities to improve business ties, suggesting they could potentially take the annual trade volume to £2.5 million ($3.1 million).

Johnson is also expected to meet President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during his visit.

Tension between India and Pakistan have increased after the attack on an Indian Army base in Uri on September 18 and the resultant "surgical strike" on terrorist launchpads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir by the army 10 days later. Since then, cross-border firings have increased killing soldiers and civilians on both sides.

On Wednesday, 12 people, including three Pakistani soldiers, were killed in alleged Indian cross-border firings. India's response came after the Indian Army warned of "heavy retribution" following the killing of three of its soldiers, with the body of one of them mutilated in a cross-LoC attack.

Pakistan denied as "false" and "baseless" its troops were responsible for the mutilation and deaths of Indian soldiers.

However, Aziz said that Pakistan has briefed the British delegation about increase in tension on the LoC as he stressed the need for dialogue with India "otherwise these issues would become more serious."

Talking about the "incredible" human and economic potential of the region, Johnson said "imagine what the future could be like if this was sorted out." He said the "mutual sequestration" of the India-Pakistan economies was holding back the region from becoming a "boomzone".

Aziz said Pakistan and the UK have been cooperating under the framework of enhanced strategic dialogue since 2011. "The two sides had already agreed to three new road-maps on trade and investment, culture and education and security," he said.

Johnson said it was important for the UK and Pakistan to work together for security and stability of the entire region. He said there was a "vast potential" to increase the bilateral trade to the mutual benefit of the two countries.

Aziz said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has extended an invitation to his British counterpart to visit Pakistan next year.


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