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UNSC takes up Kashmir after half-century

The U.N. Security Council met to formally discuss Jammu and Kashmir for the first time in almost a half-century, as protests and clashes intensified.

UNITED NATIONS (AN) — The U.N. Security Council met to formally discuss Jammu and Kashmir on Friday for the first time in almost a half-century, signaling the intense stakes as protests and clashes with police intensified.

Prodded by China and Pakistan, the 15-nation council held a closed-door discussion on the extraordinary security crackdown in the Indian-controlled region, where the government instituted a lockdown to contain the fallout from its August 5 decision to downgrade Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy.

Pakistan’s government had decided last week to seek support from the United Nations, including the Security Council and International Court of Justice, for pressuring India into restoring autonomy among Indian-administered portions of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistani officials also said they would downgrade their diplomatic relations and suspend trade with India, bringing the two nuclear-armed neighbors closer to renewed war over the Himalayan region both countries claim.

"The voice of people of occupied Kashmir has been heard today in the highest diplomatic forum of the world," Pakistan's U.N. ambassador, Maleeha Lodhi, told reporters after the meeting. "The fact that this meeting took place is testimony to the fact that this is an internationally recognized dispute."

Lodhi said the council discussed human rights violations in the region and "reaffirmed the validity" of previous council resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir.

"I think today this meeting nullifies India's claim that Jammu and Kashmir is an internal matter for India," she said. "This is the first and not the last step. It will not end here. It will only end when justice is done to the people of Jammu and Kashmir."

India's U.N. ambassador, Syed Akbaruddin, told reporters after the meeting his intention was "not to add to the fire and fury of heightening tensions." He said India was not the "villain" of the international community, and the council should understand that the conflict is "entirely an internal matter" of India.

"These have no external ramifications," he said. "We are committed to gradually removing all restrictions."

No more political "pawns"

The region was independent when British colonizers departed. It became part of India in wartime, when Pakistan tried to take control of it in 1947. Since gaining their independence from the British 72 years ago, Pakistan and India have already fought each other in three wars, including two for control of Jammu and Kashmir.

The council resolved in 1948 that it would offer assistance in reaching a peaceful resolution by setting up a commission.  It also recommended that Pakistan withdraw combatants and India reduce its military forces and appoint an administrator.

Since then, the Security Council met to formally discuss the disputed Himalayan region in 1965 and 1971.

At the 1965 meeting, the council adopted a resolution calling for a cease-fire and asking the two governments to cooperate fully with the United Nations in supervising the observance of a cease-fire. The council also requested that the U.N. secretary-general "take all measures possible" to strengthen the U.N. Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan.

The 1971 meeting, which adopted two resolutions, was held in light of the 1971 India-Pakistan War. The council demanded that a durable cease-fire should be observed until withdrawals could take place, and called for international aid to those suffering from the conflict.

As this latest council meeting was held, the region was put under a near-constant curfew and communications were blacked out for a 12th day. After Friday prayers, demonstrators turned out in Srinagar, the largest city in the region. Security forces used tear gas to repel some of the rock-throwing demonstrators.

Kumi Naidoo, the secretary general of Amnesty International, said the people of Jammu and Kashmir should not be treated as pawns in a political crisis.

“Members of the council need to remember that their mandate is to protect international peace and security — and they should seek to resolve the situation in a way that puts the human rights of the people in this troubled region at its center," Naidoo said.