London | Britain is deeply concerned over rising tensions between India and Pakistan, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday, urging both the nuclear-armed nations to exercise restraint to avoid further escalation.
Tensions between India and Pakistan rose on Wednesday after Pakistan claimed it shot down two Indian fighter jets over Pakistani air space and arrested a pilot.
The Pakistani claim came a day after Indian Air Force carried out a pre-dawn air strike on a terror training camp inside Pakistan. The strike was the first by the IAF inside Pakistan after the 1971 war.
“The UK is deeply concerned about rising tensions between India and Pakistan and urgently calls for restraint on both sides to avoid further escalation. We are in regular contact with both countries, urging dialogue and diplomatic solutions to ensure regional stability,” prime minister May said.
In response to an urgent question on “The situation in Jammu & Kashmir” tabled during the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session, May told the House of Commons that the UK remained in regular contact with both countries and was working towards de-escalating tensions.
“We are working closely with international partners, including through the UN Security Council, to de-escalate tensions and are monitoring developments closely and considering implications for British nationals,” she said.
The “security and humanitarian situation in Kashmir” was later raised with UK Foreign Office minister Mark Field during the House of Commons session by Opposition Labour Party MP Debbie Abrahams as chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Kashmir.
In an apparent reference to the upcoming general elections in India being among the factors to consider, the minister said while the polls may be “irrelevant” to the situation, it is a factor of concern.
“We all know that we are in a pre-election period within India and that is one of the factors that obviously is a concern. It is one of the reasons we want to see a de-escalation at the earliest possible opportunity,” he said.
Field told MPs that he will be leaving for a three-day pre-scheduled visit to India on Thursday, where he will continue to monitor the situation from the ground.
“Understandably, there has been huge interest in this rapidly developing situation. This House will understand it will not be appropriate for me to comment in detail on reportage at this time as the situation evolves,” he said.
Stressing that India and Pakistan are “nuclear nations” which makes the situation an urgent one to be addressed at the UN level, Field noted: “It is all the more important that we dial down some of the rhetoric, and some of the actions we have seen in recent days”.
“The UK will continue to support a listing of Jaish-e-Mohammed and its leader Masood Azhar under the UN Security Council Resolution 1267. But it is very pre-mature to start making categorical statements about any involvement by Pakistan in this issue,” he said.
Laying out the background to the situation before Parliament, the UK minister referred to the February 14 Pulwama attack which killed 40 CRPF soldiers.
India-Pakistan tensions, already at a high level, rose significantly following that attack and both countries publicly exchanged heated rhetoric, the minister said.
“There have been reports of ceasefire violations across the Line of Control overnight and the situation remains unclear, but fast developing,” he said, reiterating that UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt had spoken to his counterparts in India and Pakistan on Monday and that Britain remains in “regular contact at senior levels”.
The Foreign Office minister said he was also scheduled for talks with Indian High Commissioner to the UK Ruchi Ghanashyam and Pakistani High Commissioner Mohammad Nafees Zakaria later on Wednesday to encourage a dialogue.
Describing both countries as “important and long-standing friends of the United Kingdom”, the minister said the UK government’s position on Kashmir remains unchanged in that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting political resolution to the situation.
“It isn’t for the UK to prescribe, to intervene or to interfere with a solution or to act as a mediator,” he said.
During the lengthy Commons sessions, Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry called on the government to urge both countries to think “first and foremost of the innocent people in Kashmir, literally caught in the middle of this cross-fire”.