By Pamela Constable
Pakistan announced Wednesday that it will downgrade diplomatic ties and suspend trade with nuclear-armed neighbor India over its sudden move to retract the semiautonomous status of the disputed Kashmir region.
The office of Prime Minister Imran Khan said that after a meeting with him, the government’s national security council decided to take those measures immediately, file a formal protest with the U.N. Security Council and review all bilateral arrangements with India.
On Monday, Indian President Ram Nath Kovind issued a decree revoking the protected political status enjoyed by Kashmir for the past six decades under the Indian constitution. Kovind acted at the behest of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Kashmir has long been a flash point between the two countries, and it has been roiled for years by terrorist attacks, protests by the region’s majority Muslims, and accusations of repression by Indian forces stationed there. The Himalayan region, claimed by both countries, is divided by a militarized Line of Control.
India and Pakistan have fought three limited wars since Pakistan was created in 1947 in the violent partition of India. Relations between them have been especially tense since Modi, a Hindu nationalist, was first elected in 2014. A terrorist attack in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir in February sparked the most dangerous military standoff between them in decades.
Khan and other Pakistani leaders said Tuesday that they feared India’s action amounted to an effort to weaken the majority-Muslim region by allowing people from the rest of majority-Hindu India to purchase property in Kashmir for the first time. They also warned that the change of status could lead to serious violence and ethnic cleansing.
The official announcement said Khan had ordered that “all diplomatic channels be activated to expose [the] brutal Indian racist regime, design and human rights violations.” It said he also directed the Pakistani armed forces to “continue vigilance.”
The rupture between Islamabad and New Delhi followed months of stop-and-go efforts at fence-mending by Khan, which were punctured by the aerial skirmish near the Line of Control in late February and then by Modi’s triumphant reelection in May.
Members of Pakistan’s Parliament from all major parties, meeting Wednesday in special joint session for the second consecutive day, denounced India’s action. Khan’s office said he telephoned world leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to make Pakistan’s case against India.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told Pakistani news media that Islamabad’s ambassador and other senior diplomats would leave New Delhi and that “their counterparts here will also be sent back.”
He also said he would travel Thursday to Beijing to consult with officials there about the Kashmir situation. China has become Pakistan’s most important economic partner and foreign ally in the past half-decade.
Pakistan’s human rights minister, Shireen Mazari, told Parliament that India’s action in Kashmir amounted to “war crimes done by a rogue government” and that India is carrying out “ethnic cleansing and genocide.” She said India had violated the U.N. Security Council resolutions that have long recognized Kashmir as a disputed territory.
Late Wednesday, both houses of Parliament unanimously passed a resolution condemning India’s action, which the resolution described as an “illegal, unilateral, reckless and coercive attempt to alter the disputed status of Indian occupied Kashmir” as stated in the Security Council resolutions.
The resolution also condemned “unprovoked firing and shelling on unarmed civilian population across the Line of Control and use of cluster bombs by Indian forces” in Kashmir. The Parliament called on India to stop “killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, mass blinding by pellet guns, and use of rape as an instrument of war” against Kashmiris.
The legislators urged the Security Council to investigate India’s actions and asked the international community to “warn India to refrain from undertaking any irresponsible, unilateral actions that may lead to a dangerous escalation” and affect “the entire world.”
Pakistan has long championed what it calls the “Kashmir cause” of independence from Indian rule, insisting that its support for Muslim protesters and activists there is only political and diplomatic. But India accuses Pakistan of backing violent guerrilla groups that have repeatedly attacked Indian security forces.