Recent outbreaks of violence in Kashmir should not be an excuse to end dialogue between India and Pakistan on ways to kickstart a peace process, says Phil Bennion MEP.
Speaking at the European Parliament in Brussels, which is back in session this week, Dr Bennion said that recent violence in the disputed territory continued to be a focus of concern for friends of Kashmir in the EU and globally.
After an apparent thaw in relations between the two nuclear powers in recent years, August has seen an upsurge in violence in the province including the deaths of soldiers after exchanges of fire along the Line of Control and the reported death of five militants in the Najwan forest near Ganderbal in Indian-administered Kashmir after a clash with security forces last Friday.
Dr Bennion, MEP for Birmingham and the West Midlands region, is a member of the European Parliament's South Asia delegation and was an official EU election monitor in Pakistan earlier this year.
He said: "The process of peaceful transition of power in Pakistan after the elections has been a great success this year. It is vitally important that these latest incidents do not divert the new government from the task of pursuing a broad-based peace process which involves not just the governments of Pakistan and India but the people of Kashmir and their representatives.
"I was encouraged by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's comments reported on August 23rd stressing his desire to achieve peace, citing the enormous cost to both India and Pakistan of maintaining huge armed forces in the disputed territory of Kashmir.
"As he pointed out, defence and debt repayments took up 54% of Pakistan's budget last year, while education was just 2%. The peace dividend for both countries would be enormous.
"Members of the European Parliament continue to stress to both the European Commission and member governments the continued need to push for progress to defuse one of the most dangerous disputes in Asia.
"It may be the case that recent violent incidents are the result of attempts to derail dialogue and discussion. They must not be allowed to succeed. High level contacts between the India and Pakistan governments are a necessary prerequisite to peace, though I think Kashmiri representatives should be more involved.
"The EU has a continuing role to play as honest broker, both in highlighting human rights issues and helping both governments in a wider process of engagement. Intelligently applied aid and assistance to boost economic growth and security is also important, but all of this work depends on progress and respect for human rights."