Pakistan celebrates Independence Day but tensions with India remain high

Pakistan celebrates Independence Day but tensions with India remain high

A man sells Kashmir's flags and patriotic memorabilia ahead of Pakistan's Independence Da
A man sells Kashmir's flags and patriotic memorabilia ahead of Pakistan's Independence Day, along a market in Karachi, Pakistan Aug 13, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan used an address celebrating Independence Day on Wednesday (Aug 14) to criticise India for its actions in the disputed Kashmir region that has long been a flashpoint between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

India revoked the special status of its portion of Himalayan Kashmir, known as Jammu and Kashmir, on Aug 5 and moved to quell widespread unrest by shutting down communications and clamping down on freedom of movement.

Islamabad retaliated by suspending bilateral trade and all public transport links with India, as well as expelling New Delhi's ambassador to Islamabad.

READ: Kashmir's history - India's revoking of special status in context

On Wednesday, Khan travelled to Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, making his first visit to the region since becoming Pakistan's leader in 2018.

In a speech he told the region's parliament that India planned more extensive action than that of February, when its fighter jets struck inside Pakistan, following a dramatic escalation in tension between the rivals.

"They have made a more horrendous plan to divert world attention from their move in Kashmir, they plan action in Azad Kashmir," Khan said, referring to the portion held by Pakistan.

"The Pakistani army is fully aware that they (India) have made a plan of taking action in Azad Kashmir."

Khan also repeated comments comparing the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, to the German Nazi Party.

Representatives of India's armed forces and its foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Khan's remarks.

CONFLICT ZONE

India rules the populous Kashmir Valley and the Hindu-dominated region around Jammu city, while Pakistan controls a wedge of territory in the west known as Azad Kashmir. China holds a thinly populated high-altitude area in the north.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir since gaining independence from colonial power Great Britain in 1947, They came close to a third in February after a deadly attack on Indian police by a Pakistan-based militant group resulted in air strikes by both countries.

India's revocation of special status for Jammu and Kashmir blocks the state's right to frame its own laws and allows non-residents to buy property there.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has said old laws prohibiting people from outside Kashmir from buying property, settling there and taking up government jobs had hindered its development.

READ: The shock and awe of India's move on Kashmir, a commentary

Restrictions were lifted in five districts of Jammu and relaxed in nine Kashmir districts on Monday, India's home ministry said. It said there would be heightened security for both Pakistan and India's Independence Day celebrations and for Muslim Friday prayers.

In Islamabad, posters urged residents to express solidarity with Kashmiris and roadside vendors sold Azad Kashmir flags as well as the Pakistan flag commonly displayed on Aug 14.

"Independence Day is an opportunity for great happiness, but today we are saddened by the plight of our Kashmiri brothers in occupied Jammu and Kashmir who are victims of Indian oppression," Khan said in a statement.

"I assure my Kashmiri brothers that we stand with them," he said.

Pakistan's government has also said India's Independence Day, which falls on Aug 15, will be observed as a "Black Day" this year, with flags on government buildings flown at half mast to protest against India's decision.

Source: Reuters/nr

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