Asia Pacific / Politics

Pakistan boots Indian ambassador as Kashmir dispute escalates

Reuters, AP

Pakistan said on Wednesday it would expel India’s ambassador and suspend bilateral trade with archrival after New Delhi stripped India’s portion of the contested Kashmir region of special status.

China and Pakistan, which both claim parts of Kashmir, have voiced fierce opposition to India’s removal of a constitutional provision that had allowed the country’s only Muslim-majority state to make its own laws.

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have twice waged war over Kashmir, and in February engaged in an aerial clash. India, which has been battling insurgents there for 30 years, said the special status had hindered Kashmir’s development and it wanted to fully integrate the region with the rest of the country.

Moin-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s newly appointed ambassador to India, has yet to take up his post but will now not move to New Delhi, and Indian Ambassador Ajay Bisaria will be expelled, Islamabad said in a statement on Wednesday.

“It is very obvious that our ambassador wouldn’t be in Delhi, and obviously the man who is here will also leave,” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in a telephone interview with Pakistani TV channel ARY News.

Thousands of Indian security forces have kept a lid on protests in Kashmir, helped by the continued suspension of telephone and internet services after the Himalayan region’s special status was scrapped this week.

Streets in the main Kashmiri city of Srinagar were deserted for a fourth day on Thursday, with almost all shops shut, except some pharmacies. Armed federal police manned mobile checkpoints across the city, limiting people’s movement.

Knots of young protesters threw stones at soldiers, police and a witness said, amid anger over the telecom clampdown, which began on Sunday.

Protests “are mostly localized because of the heavy troop deployment,” said a police officer, adding that police used tear gas and pepper spray to scatter the protesters.

A witness described an episode of hours of stone-throwing on Tuesday in the Old Barzullah area near the city center, saying, “I saw around 100 boys, in small groups, pelting stones. The police fired tear gas to beat them back.”

A petition was filed Thursday in India’s top court challenging the communications blackout and security clampdown. Congress party activist Tehseen Poonawalla said he expected the Supreme Court to soon hear his petition seeking the immediate lifting of restrictions on movement and communications.

State-run All India Radio said security agencies had arrested more than 500 people in the region, apparently to prevent any outbreak of violence. It also reported cross-border firing by Indian and Pakistani troops in the Rajouri sector of the Indian-controlled Kashmir late Wednesday.

So far, 300 political leaders — many campaigning for Kashmir’s secession from India — have been detained, a police officer said on Thursday. Two local leaders from the National Conference, a major regional party, also said that at least 100 politicians — including former state ministers and legislators — had been detained.

Activist Ali Mohammed told the New Delhi Television news channel that he had been organizing ambulances to carry sick poor people to hospitals in Srinagar because residents can’t even use phones to ask for medical help.

“It’s hell,” a patient told the channel.

India accuses Pakistan of training and arming Islamist militants fighting its rule in Kashmir. Islamabad denies the allegation and says it only gives moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people in their struggle for self-determination.

India ordered security to be increased at airports, saying, “Civil aviation has emerged as a soft target.” Security officials have warned of a backlash against the move to withdraw Kashmir’s special status.

All telephone, television and internet connections remained severed. At night, police vans have patrolled the streets with loudspeakers warning residents to stay indoors.

Jammu and Kashmir Gov. Satya Pal Malik asked officials to ensure people had enough supplies and assured them of their security.

Local authorities have not declared a curfew but have clamped down on nonessential travel and gatherings of four or more people, keeping restive people in their homes.

South Kashmir, the epicenter of the insurgency in recent years, was completely locked down, said a state government official who visited the area. “The highway was deserted, except for some trucks and buses carrying laborers out of the valley,” added the official.

Officials with emergency services such as hospitals and the fire department said their staff were also frequently stopped at checkpoints, with access sometimes blocked.

The principal of Srinagar’s Government Medical College, which runs Kashmir’s largest hospital network had to personally visit district officials to coordinate services or seek approvals, a hospital official said.