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August 20, 2019
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Kuwait Times International

Pak PM visits Kashmir as tensions boil

MUZAFFARABAD: Pakistan痴 Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses the assembly in the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir yesterday. – AFP

MUZAFFARABAD/NEW
DELHI: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed to “fight until the
end” against any Indian aggression in the disputed region of Kashmir. The
warning represented a dramatic escalation in rhetoric after Islamabad said last
week that they had ruled out a “military option” over the Kashmir
dispute. The remarks come as tensions skyrocketed between the nuclear-armed
rivals following India’s surprising move to revoke the autonomy of its portion
of the disputed Himalayan territory last week.

“The
Pakistani army has solid information that they (India) are planning to do
something in Pakistani Kashmir, and they are ready and will give a solid
response,” Khan said during a televised speech in Muzaffarabad, capital of
Pakistan-administered Kashmir. “We have decided that if India commits any
type of violation we will fight until the end,” Khan added in the speech
marking the country’s Independence Day. “The time has arrived to teach you
a lesson.”

The head of the
Pakistani military also added that the country’s security forces were
“fully ready to perform its part in line with our national duty for
Kashmir cause”, according to a tweet from the army’s spokesperson. Khan
and the military’s comments followed other fiery speeches in the territory’s
parliament, with the prime minister of Pakistani Kashmir at one point begging
for permission to cross the de-facto border dividing the territory and then
later bragging about opening fire on Indian troops in the past.

The heated
rhetoric follows days of rising hostilities from Islamabad. Following Delhi’s
move to abolish Indian-administered Kashmir’s special status, Pakistan launched
a diplomatic offensive aimed at reversing the order and formally asked the
United Nations Security Council late Tuesday to hold an emergency session to
address India’s “illegal actions”. Pakistan has also expelled the
Indian ambassador, halted bilateral trade and suspended cross-border transport
services. However, analysts said the actions were unlikely to move Delhi.

The Indian part
of the picturesque Himalayan state has been under lockdown for over a week with
tens of thousands of troop reinforcements deployed to the main city of Srinagar
and other towns and villages. A curfew has also been enforced across the region
and phone and Internet lines cut to quell potential unrest. Indian authorities
vowed to reduce the restrictions on freedom of movement in their portion of
Kashmir following the country’s own Independence Day celebrations on Thursday.

Earlier this week
Khan lambasted the international community for failing to challenge India and
said turning a blind eye to the spread of Indian Hindu nationalism was the same
as appeasing Hitler – a comparison he again made yesterday. As tensions
simmered with India, Pakistan moved ahead with independence celebrations which
began at the stroke of midnight with firework shows lighting up the skies in
major cities, where residents jammed the streets waving the national flag from
their cars and motorcycles.

In August 1947
the British Raj was dismantled with the subcontinent divided into two
independent states – Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan.
Millions were uprooted in one of the largest mass migrations in history, with
experts estimating at least one million died in the communal violence unleashed
by a partition that continues to haunt the subcontinent to this day.

Kashmir has been
divided between India and Pakistan ever since, and has been the spark for two
major wars and countless clashes between the two nuclear-armed arch-rivals.
Earlier this year they came close to all-out conflict yet again, after a
militant attack in Indian-held Kashmir in February was claimed by a group based
in Pakistan, igniting tit-for-tat air strikes.

Meanwhile,
India’s crippling 10-day-old curfew in Kashmir will ease after today, according
to the state governor, but phone lines and the Internet will remain cut. India
shut off communications and severely restricted movement in the part of Kashmir
it controls on Aug 4, a day before New Delhi stripped the Muslim-majority
region of its autonomy. Fearing protests and unrest in the long-restive region,
tens of thousands of extra Indian troops have been deployed, turning the
picturesque main city of Srinagar into a warren of barbed wire and barricades.

While rules on
the movement of people would be eased after India’s Independence Day
celebrations today, state governor Satya Pal Malik said that phone lines and
the Internet would remain down. “We don’t want to give that instrument to
the enemy until things settle down,” Malik told the Times of India.
“In a week or 10 days, everything will be alright and we will gradually
open lines of communication.”

The lockdown has
not completely prevented anger at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move bursting
out into the open, however. According to residents around 8,000 people
protested after Friday prayers, with security forces firing tear gas and
pellet-firing shotguns to break up the rally. Only on Tuesday did the Indian
government confirm that clashes, blaming them on stone-throwing
“miscreants” and saying its forces reacted with
“restraint”.

Footage filmed by
AFP on Monday showed hundreds of people protesting in the Soura area of
Srinagar, shouting slogans such as “We want freedom” and “India
go back” as helicopters buzzed overhead. “What India has done is
unacceptable to us. Our struggle will continue even if India keeps Kashmir
locked down for months,” one protester told AFP. India’s home ministry
said Tuesday that since the curfew was imposed, “no bullets have been
fired”.

But Munir Khan, a
senior police officer in Kashmir, said that the military has used pellet-firing
shotguns. “There have been 2-3 pellet injuries but they are nothing major.
There is nothing grave,” Khan told AFP. He added that some security
personnel were also injured. In Srinagar’s main SMHS Hospital, one young man
was nursing his eye, saying he had been shot by pellets fired by soldiers as he
came out of a mosque on Monday. “We could not pray in peace on the day of
Eid. A large number of soldiers surrounded the mosque,” a man by his
bedside said, also declining to give his name.

Elsewhere in the
ward, six-year-old Munefa Nazir slept with her right eye bandaged as her family
took turns waving a handheld fan to keep her cool. According to her uncle, she
was shot in the eye by a marble fired from a catapult by an Indian soldier at a
checkpoint as they rode on his scooter on Monday evening. “She screamed
and blood from her eye started oozing through her fingers as she covered her
face with both hands,” Farooq Ahmad said.

The 1,000-bed
SMHS is usually busy but because of the curfew only a few beds were occupied in
some sections. Many pharmacies have also run out of some supplies. “We
have run out of a lot of prescription drugs people here look for,” said
Mubashir Hussain, a salesman at a medical shop in the Jawahar Nagar area where
restrictions on public and vehicular movement have been eased since Monday. –
Agencies

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