British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called for an end to violence in Kashmir during a visit to Islamabad Thursday, warning tensions between India and Pakistan are holding the region back from becoming an “incredible boomzone”.
Johnson, who said he was visiting Pakistan for the first time, spoke a day after at least nine people were killed after Indian troops resorted to indiscriminate firing hitting a civilian bus along the Line of Control (LoC).
The deadly incident, which came after months of dangerous tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals, saw Pakistani and Indian military officials speak via a special hotline, according to the Pakistani military, which said it reserves “the right to respond”.
Johnson warned former colonial power Britain could not act as a mediator in the nearly 70-year-old dispute over the Himalayan region, saying it must be up to India and Pakistan to find a “lasting solution” that allows for Kashmiri self-determination.
He also voiced concern over recent incidents “on both sides” of the de facto Kashmir border, the LoC.
“We call for an end to the violence and for both sides to exercise restraint,” he said, framing the issue as a matter of economy as well as security.
“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. What an incredible boomzone it could be.”
The “mutual sequestration” of the Indian and Pakistani economies was holding the region back from fulfilling this potential, he warned.
After Wednesday’s shooting authorities closed the road leading to the scenic Neelum Valley, a popular tourist destination near the LoC, for security reasons.
Residents told AFP they had fled the valley fearing for their lives after repeated shellings, seeking shelter in the region’s main city Muzaffarabad.
“I along with my wife and six children travelled by foot through the night,” said resident Tasawar Shah.
Johnson also spoke about US President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign threats to reconsider defending NATO allies unless they up defence spending.
“We need a strong NATO alliance and I think the president-elect is quite right to draw attention to the need to finance that alliance properly,” he told reporters.
Britain is in talks to boost trade and security cooperation with Pakistan, Johnson said, part of London’s efforts to improve trade links with emerging market countries.
Britain has been seeking to bolster global trade ties following its June referendum vote to leave the European Union, with the government seeking to broaden relations with fast-growing economies outside Europe.
The visiting foreign secretary said talks were progressing on plans to increase annual trade beyond 2.5 billion 3.11 billion per year. “Consider the size of the Pakistan economy, how fast it’s growing, look at the size of the UK economy, we could do so much better,” Johnson said in Islamabad before meeting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The two countries have had strong cultural ties since, with more than one million Pakistani people of currently residing in Britain.
The economy has rebounded in recent years, helped by improved security in the country, and growth is expected at just over 5 percent this fiscal year, the highest rate since 2008.
Economic expansion is set to increase due to a $54 billion investment from China in a network of road, rail and energy projects that will form an economic corridor linking western China with Pakistan’s Arabian Sea port at Gwadar.