UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations (UN) Tuesday (February 19) called on India and Pakistan to take immediate steps to defuse tensions and offered to help broker a solution if both sides agree.
The two countries have been locked in a diplomatic clash following a suicide attack February 14 in Indian-administered Kashmir that killed 40 Indian security personnel, triggering counter-operations by Indian forces in the area.
"We are deeply concerned at the increasing tensions between the two countries," said UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric.
UN Secretary General António Guterres "stresses the importance of both sides to exercise maximum restraint and take immediate steps" to de-escalate and is offering to mediate "should both sides ask", Dujarric said.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi Monday (February 18) appealed to Guterres to step in, in a letter seen by AFP.
"It is imperative to take steps for de-escalation. The UN must step in to defuse tensions," the letter said.
The attack was claimed by Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM).
In response to the rising tensions, France, Britain and the United States were considering a new push at the UN Security Council to place JeM leader Masood Azhar on the UN terror list, but faced opposition from China, diplomats said.
China has twice blocked -- in 2016 and 2017 -- attempts to put the JeM leader on the blacklist. The group itself was added to the terror list in 2001.
Threats to Afghan peace process
Pakistani Ambassador to the UN Maleeha Lodhi met with Guterres and with the president of the Security Council to appeal for action, warning that a flareup in Indian-administered Kashmir could undermine peace efforts in Afghanistan.
"The escalation in the subcontinent poses a threat to prospects for peace in Afghanistan," Lodhi told AFP.
Pakistani Ambassador to Afghanistan Zahid Nasrullah also warned that any Indian action against its neighbour could disrupt peace talks with the Taliban.
Pakistan is "playing a very important role" in the months-long push led by the United States for talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, he said.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad is leading an inter-agency delegation on a six-country tour February 10-28 with the goal of bringing "all Afghan parties together in an intra-Afghan dialogue".
The itinerary will take the delegation to Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the United States Tuesday urged Pakistan to punish those behind the suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir.
US State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said US officials have been in contact with both countries since the February 14 attack.
"We have been in close communication with the government of India to express not only our condolences but our strong support for India as it confronts this terrorism," he told reporters.
"We urge Pakistan to fully co-operate with the investigation ... and to punish anyone responsible."
"We call on all countries to uphold their responsibilities pursuant to the UN Security Council resolutions to deny safe haven and support for terrorists," Palladino said.
Prior to the recent row, politicians on both sides of the Pakistan-India border had been taking small steps to improve relations between the two countries.
In his first post-election speech last August, Khan said his government would seek peaceful ties with India.
If India moved one step forward in promoting peace and friendship, Pakistan would take two steps forward, he said.
Khan's overtures come in response to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's own calls for "constructive and meaningful engagement with Pakistan", according to Press Trust of India.