Pakistan ‘not looking at military option’ over Kashmir row

Pakistan says it has not been looking at a military option over Kashmir after arch-rival India scrapped its decades-old special constitutional status for the Muslim-majority region this week.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, however, went on to say that his country reserves the right to respond to any Indian aggression.

“We’re not looking at military option,” Qureshi said during a news conference in Islamabad on Thursday, adding, “Don’t we reserve a right to respond in case of any aggression?”

India’s plan to change the status of the contested Himalayan region has faced fierce opposition and reaction from Pakistan.

“They are saying that they have done it for the welfare of them (Kashmiri people). I want to ask them, ask Mr. Jay Shankar (Indian Foreign Minister), what stopped New Delhi from taking such measures since Article 370 was inserted into the Indian constitution seven decades ago?”
the Pakistani minister added.

In a related development the same day, Pakistan’s Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed said Islamabad will suspend a rail service linking it to India.

“We have decided to shut down Samjhauta Express,” he said in reference to the train running to India’s capital New Delhi from the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, adding, “As long as I am railways minister, Samjhauta Express can’t operate.”

Firdous Ashiq Awan, an adviser to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, also said in a tweeter post that the Pakistani government would ban the screening of Indian films in the country’s cinemas.

“No Indian cinema will be screened in any Pakistani cinema. Drama, films and Indian content of this kind will be completely banned in Pakistan,” she said.

Pakistan on Wednesday decided to expel the Indian envoy and suspend trade in a deepening row over New Delhi’s move to tighten its grip on Kashmir.

Premier Khan, earlier in an address to the Pakistani parliament, said that he was weighing taking the matter to the United Nations Security Council.

And the Pakistani army chief said the military will “go to any extent” to support people in Kashmir. Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa expressed support for the people of Kashmir after a meeting with top commanders in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Tuesday.

The developments come after the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked the special status of Indian-controlled Kashmir on Monday, a move described by Pakistan as “illegal.”

The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs announced Indian President Ram Nath Kovind had signed a decree abolishing Article 370 of the constitution, which grants a measure of autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir, including the right to draft its own laws.

The president also moved a bill proposing that the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir be divided into two regions directly ruled by New Delhi.

The government in New Delhi also lifted a ban on property purchases by people from outside Jammu and Kashmir, opening the way for Indians to invest and settle in the disputed region like any other part of India.

The Indian government recently rejected US President Donald Trump’s request for mediation over Kashmir.

India has long bristled at any suggestion of a third-party involvement in tackling Kashmir.

Modi had earlier pushed for radical political changes in Jammu and Kashmir even before he won a re-election in May. He said the old laws had hindered Kashmir’s integration with the rest of India.

Prominent political leaders in the Indian-controlled Kashmir on Thursday were placed under house arrest and India’s paramilitary forces deployed thousands of extra troops across the region, raising fears of a crackdown.

Photos and video images circulating on social media showed deserted streets in Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar, which has been at the heart of a nearly 30-year armed revolt against the Indian rule.

UN chief calls for ‘maximum restraint’ in Kashmir

Later on Thursday, Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres called on India and Pakistan “to refrain from taking steps that could affect the status of Jammu and Kashmir.”

“The Secretary-General has been following the situation in Jammu and Kashmir with concern and makes an appeal for maximum restraint,” his spokesperson said, adding, “The Secretary-General is also concerned over reports of restrictions on the Indian-side of Kashmir, which could exacerbate the human rights situation in the region.”

Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since their partition in 1947. Both countries claim all of Kashmir and have fought three wars over the territory.

India regularly accuses Pakistan of arming and training militants and allowing them across the frontier. Pakistan strongly rejects the accusation.

Indo-Pakistani relations nosedived in February when over 40 Indian paramilitaries were killed in a bomb attack in Kashmir. New Delhi blamed Pakistan-based militants, but Islamabad denied any involvement.

Robert Fisk, British daily The Independent’s multi-award-winning Middle East correspondent, recently wrote that Israel was playing a big role in India’s escalating conflict with Pakistan.