Pakistan will expel the Indian ambassador and suspend trade after suggesting its rival could carry out ethnic cleansing in Kashmir, where tensions remain high following Delhi’s decision to revoke the state’s special status and divide it in two.
Amid an unprecedented communications blackout in Kashmir, the Indian government announced on Monday that it would dramatically change its relationship with the state, revoking the special status that the territory was granted in exchange for joining the Indian union after independence in 1947. It also said it would divide the state in two.
The move has sparked fierce rhetoric from Pakistan, which also claims Kashmir and has fought two wars with India over the territory, with the country’s army chief vowing to “go to any extent” to stand by Kashmiris. In a statement on Wednesday, Pakistan said it would cut bilateral trade and raise the issue with the UN. Analysts point out trade between the two countries is relatively small and that it is unlikely the UN will take any action.
“The diplomatic statements on their own mean really nothing,” said Raja Mohan, the director of the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore. “It’s really what happens on the ground that will be far more consequential. “It will begin to matter if there is violence in Kashmir and Delhi sees some of it as coming from Pakistan and then you’re back in the Pulwama sort of situation [where dozens of Indian paramilitaries were killed in a suicide car bombing]. Does India respond? If India responds, will there be escalation?”
Indian-administered Kashmir remains gripped by an unprecedented communications blackout that has cut off phone lines, internet and mobile coverage. Cable TV, initially suspended, is now running again but not showing any news programmes. The only source of news is satellite TV, which fewer people have access to.
A protester is reported to have died after being chased by police, and more than 100 people were arrested during a curfew in Srinagar, according to Agence France-Presse.
People arriving at Delhi’s airport from Kashmir on Wednesday morning described a state of lockdown that has left those with medical emergencies unable to call for ambulances, families unable to contact one another and the streets lined with heavy security.
“Every inch and corner is covered,” said Soayib Qureshi, a Delhi-based lawyer. “You cannot even go out of your house.”
In his neighbourhood, in downtown Srinagar, Kashmir’s biggest city, small protests – of 40-50 people – were taking place at night, when the curfew was relaxed after 10pm. He believed he heard teargas canisters being used elsewhere on Monday and Tuesday, but said the suspension of all communication meant people had little idea what was happening.
The announcement, he added, was a shock to everyone: “It’s a surgical strike.”
At night some movement is allowed, though there are checkpoints everywhere.
Ubaid Punjoo, who arrived in Delhi on Tuesday evening, said: “There is absolute anger [among] the people in the main politics, in the separatists. They have shut down the mainstream leaders, those leaders who have been with India for the past 70 years.” Indian-administered Kashmir has held special status since 1954, giving it a degree of autonomy including its own constitution and as well as rules that prevented people from outside the state buying land in the territory. Many Kashmiris believe this is crucial to protecting the demography and traditions of India’s only Muslim-majority state. The Indian government was condemned by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), which accused it of violating rights guaranteed under the Indian constitution and international law.
Sam Zarifi, the ICJ secretary general, said the announcement had been accompanied by “draconian new restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and travel, and with an influx of thousands of unaccountable security personnel”.
In Pakistan’s parliament on Tuesday,the prime minister, Imran Khan, said he would raise the issue with the UN, adding: “I am afraid that [India] will now carry out ethnic cleansing in Kashmir.
“They will try to remove the local people and bring in others and make them a majority, so that the locals become nothing but slaves.”