- Associated Press - Friday, October 22, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pakistan called Friday for President Obama to intervene in its longstanding dispute with India over the Himalayan region of Kashmir, the cause of two of the three wars the nuclear-armed rivals have fought.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi made the unusually blunt appeal for Obama to seek a resolution of the dispute when he visits India next month, saying he should “redeem the pledge” he made as a candidate.

The conflict over Kashmir has been the main source of friction between India and Pakistan since they won independence from Britain in 1947. Pakistan has frequently sought outside intervention to resolve it but India vehemently opposes such involvement and the United States has traditionally stayed above the fray.

Mr. Qureshi, speaking next to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the closing day of three days of U.S.-Pakistan talks, said Mr. Obama must get involved because a crackdown against suspected Muslim militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir threatens the entire region.

“It is in the U.S. strategic interest to work for peace, stability and resolution of the disputes in South Asia,” he said. “The starting point in this quest is justice for the Kashmiri people.”

“President Obama has always understood the importance of a Kashmir solution,” Mr. Qureshi said. “His coming visit to the region is the time to begin to redeem the pledge that he made earlier.”

As a presidential candidate in 2008, Mr. Obama suggested that the U.S. should encourage India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute so Pakistan could better focus on fighting extremists on its own territory and Afghanistan. Although he did not advocate direct mediation, his comments were met with disdain in India.

Mrs. Clinton did not respond to Mr. Qureshi’s comments. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley later said the United States had no plans to intervene in the dispute.

“The Pakistanis have raised the issue of Kashmir with us before. This is not new,” Mr. Crowley told reporters. “The United States’ policy is clear: We believe that this ultimately is an issue that has to be resolved between India and Pakistan.”

Mr. Obama will not visit Pakistan on his upcoming trip but he plans to spend several days in India, which has cracked down on violent anti-Indian protests in Kashmir since June. The violence has killed at least 111 people, mostly teenage boys and young men in their 20s. Authorities have imposed off-and-on curfews in an attempt to halt the unrest.

Mr. Quershi expressed astonishment that the U.S. and other major powers had said little about India’s response to the protests.

“People of conscience have protested the use of force against the defenseless people of Kashmir, in particular the targeting of the Kashmiri youth,” he said. “But the Kashmiri mothers are baffled by the deafening silence of the world’s leadership. History has proved that the force of arms cannot suppress the legitimate aspirations of the Kashmiri people.”

India and Pakistan fought two wars for control of Muslim-majority Kashmir, where rebels have sought independence from India or incorportation with neighboring Pakistan.

More than 68,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in Kashmir since fighting began in earnest in 1989.