Pakistan’s prime minister warned that a move by India to strip Kashmir of its special status could lead to war between the two countries and the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the restive Himalayan region.
Imran Khan accused India’s Hindu-nationalist government of promoting a “racist ideology.”
Referring to India’s cross-border airstrike in February on the village of Pulwama in the Pakistan-controlled portion of Kashmir, Khan said such provocations would be more frequent, possibly leading to war, after New Delhi’s decision affecting Indian-administered Kashmir.
“This will be a war that no one will win and the implications will be global,” Khan said, addressing a joint session of Pakistan’s parliament.
He predicted India will intensify a crackdown on Kashmiris, adding, “I fear they may initiate ethnic cleansing in Kashmir to wipe out the local population.”
Kashmir remained on lockdown following a decree from India’s president on Monday rescinding the region’s special status. On Tuesday, India’s parliament passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill formalizing the change, which is likely to be challenged in court on constitutional grounds.
The disputed Muslim-majority territory of Kashmir is split between India and Pakistan. They have fought two major wars over the region, which is a source of constant tension between the rival neighbors.
Indian-administered Kashmir, which also has sizeable Hindu and Buddhist minorities, enjoyed a semi-autonomous status since it acceded to India in 1947. But discontent there has fueled a protracted separatist movement that has claimed some 45,000 lives since the late 1980s.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party won an overwhelming victory in elections this spring, vowed in the campaign to revoke the constitutional clause dealing with Kashmir, known as Article 370.
Meanwhile, in Kashmir, where Internet and phone service was cut off ahead of Monday’s decree, some 400 local politicians have been placed under arrest by Indian security forces, according to India Today.
The magazine reports that hotels, guest houses, government and private buildings have been turned into makeshift jails to house the detainees, which include separatist leaders and even politicians seen as working for an accommodation with India.
Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh was quoted by the Press Trust of India as saying Kashmir’s summer capital, Srinagar, was “totally peaceful.”
Although the communications blackout made it difficult to know the situation in Kashmir, there were reports of sporadic protests. There have also been numerous protests across Pakistan, proclaiming solidarity with India’s Muslim Kashmiris.
A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Civil Rights, Rupert Colville, on Tuesday expressed deep concern over the situation in Kashmir. “We are seeing, again, blanket telecommunications restrictions, perhaps more blanket than we have ever seen before, the reported arbitrary detention of political leaders and restrictions on peaceful assembly,” he told reporters in Geneva.
Long-simmering tensions between India and Pakistan erupted again in February when a Pakistan-based separatist group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, claimed responsibility for a massive car-bomb attack that killed at least 40 Indian security forces troops and wounded half as many in Srinagar.
Islamabad denied any responsibility for the attack, which was followed by India’s airstrike on Pulwama.