ISLAMABAD: Thousands rallied across Pakistan in mass demonstrations against New Delhi’s actions in disputed Kashmir, with Prime Minister Imran Khan leading the most ambitious public protests targeting India in years. The protests come weeks ahead of Khan’s scheduled trip to the UN General Assembly where he has vowed to act as an ambassador for the people of Kashmir, after New Delhi stripped its portion of the Himalayan territory of its autonomy earlier this month.
Tensions have soared between the nuclear-armed rivals since, as Indian authorities launched a sweeping crackdown in Kashmir, which included cutting phone and internet access, placing restrictions on movement and arresting thousands, according to multiple sources. Following repeated calls to protest Friday, thousands gathered in the Pakistani capital Islamabad in front of the prime minister’s secretariat, where Khan vowed to continue fighting for Kashmir until it was “liberated”.
“We will stand with Kashmir until our last breath,” said Khan, as he launched into a blistering attack on the Indian government, comparing his counterpart Narendra Modi’s administration to Nazi Germany. Ahead of Khan’s speech, sirens rang out around the country followed by broadcasts of the national anthems of Pakistan and Kashmir, while traffic ground to a halt for several minutes in solidarity with the rallies.
Thousands more also rallied in Lahore and Karachi – Pakistan’s biggest cities – where large crowds waved flags and chanted pro-Kashmiri slogans. “No matter what India does, no matter what Modi does, Kashmir is ours. It belongs to us and we will not sit by as our Kashmiri brothers are oppressed by the Indians,” said Sadaf Mirza, a 24-year-old university student in Lahore. The demonstrations were the first in what will be weekly rallies held nationwide until Khan leaves for the UN in late September.
‘Under the nuclear shadow’
In the weeks since Modi issued the executive order stripping Kashmir of its autonomy, Khan has launched a diplomatic offensive, vowing to fight India “until the end” if attacked and making occasional references to the possible outbreak of nuclear conflict. Friday’s protests came as The New York Times published an op-ed by Khan, where the former cricket star warned of rising hostilities between the countries. “World War II happened because of appeasement at Munich. A similar threat looms over the world again, but this time under the nuclear shadow,” he wrote.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since independence, and has been the spark for two major wars and countless skirmishes between the arch-rivals. In February, the countries came close to war after a militant attack in Indian-administered Kashmir was claimed by a group based in Pakistan, igniting tit-for-tat air strikes – the first between nuclear-armed nations.
Earlier this week during a summit in France, US President Donald Trump said there was no need for him to intervene in the ensuing row between Pakistan and India sparked by Kashmir, saying Modi had the situation “under control”. The comments were made weeks after Trump had personally offered to mediate in the Kashmir conflict during Khan’s visit to the White House in late July. India has repeatedly insisted that Kashmir is purely an internal matter and that it does not want outside mediation, while lambasting Pakistan’s protests as “alarmist”.- AFP