Leader of Pakistan-held Kashmir welcomes Trump initiative

The president of Pakistani-administered Kashmir has welcomed efforts by U.S. President Donald Trump to lower tensions between Pakistan and India over the disputed Himalayan region and warned of a humanitarian crisis in the Indian-held portion

Sardar Masood Khan made the comments at a news conference in Islamabad after Trump contacted the leaders of Pakistan and India to discuss Kashmir.

According to a White House spokesman, Trump "reaffirmed the need to avoid escalation of the situation, and urged restraint on both sides."

Khan accused Indian forces of targeting the civilian population in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, saying 35 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in skirmishes since tensions escalated.

Muslim-majority Kashmir is divided between Pakistan and India and claimed by both in its entirety.

Tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals have risen sharply since Aug. 5, when India imposed unprecedented security restrictions, including a harsh curfew, and downgraded the autonomy of the portion of Kashmir it controls. Troops from both sides have been on high alert along the heavily militarized Line of Control that separate Pakistan and India in Kashmir.

Pakistan authorities have said thousands of people living in border villages on the Pakistani-controlled side have fled to safer areas.

Khan urged international organizations to dispatch observers to Indian-administered Kashmir to monitor human rights and provide food.

"These changes in the special status of Kashmir violated international law," he said.

Khan said the government of Hindu-majority India wants to convert Kashmir's Muslims into a minority by allowing non-Kashmiri people to purchase land and settle in the Kashmir region.

He asked the international community to press New Delhi to lift the curfew and other restrictions.

The moves by India have drawn widespread condemnation in Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan and the country's military claim New Delhi might launch an attack on Pakistan-administered Kashmir to distract the world's attention from the human rights situation in the Indian-held portion.

Pakistan and India have fought two wars over control of Kashmir since they won independence from British colonialists in 1947.

In Washington, a senior State Department official said the United States is waiting for both India and Pakistan to heed calls for restraint both in action and in rhetoric.

The official, who was not authorized to discuss diplomatic discussions publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters that the U.S. initially wants to see India restore human rights and basic freedoms for all Kashmiris, including the release of detainees, and then looks forward to what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised will be a return to political normalcy.

The official said the U.S. was looking to Pakistan for follow through on Prime Minister Khan's stated commitment to preventing cross-border terrorist attacks that the official said undermines Pakistan's own security.

The official said the U.S. continues to believe that direct dialogue between the two sides is critical to resolving the dispute and it does not support suggestions by Pakistani officials that Islamabad take the matter to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.


Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington, DC, contributed to this report.