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Pakistan downgrades ties with India as Kashmir row deepens

By AFP - Aug 08,2019 - Last updated at Aug 08,2019

Labourers buy bus tickets at a counter of Jammu and Kashmir Tourist Reception Centre in Srinagar as they leave to go back to their home states due to the heightened security situation on Wednesday (AFP photo)

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan downgraded its diplomatic ties with nuclear-armed rival India Wednesday, announcing that it will expel the Indian envoy and suspend trade in a deepening row over New Delhi's move to tighten its grip on disputed Kashmir.

New Delhi stripped the Himalayan region of its seven-decade-long semi-autonomous status Monday through a contentious presidential decree, just hours after it imposed a crippling curfew on the valley.

Experts have predicted the move will trigger conflict with Pakistan, which has a competing claim to the Muslim-majority valley. 

Delhi has insisted that the move is an internal matter.

But Islamabad has called for the international community to intervene and vowed to take the matter to the United Nations Security Council.

“We will call back our ambassador from Delhi and send back their” envoy, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi announced in televised comments on Wednesday.

He spoke as the government released a statement declaring that Pakistan will suspend trade with India and review its bilateral ties with Delhi. 

“Prime Minister Imran Khan today [Wednesday] chaired meeting of the National Security Committee” to discuss the “unilateral and illegal actions by the Indian government” in Kashmir, the statement said.

“The committee decided to take following actions: 1. Downgrading of diplomatic relations with India. 2. Suspension of bilateral trade with India. 3. Review of bilateral arrangements. 4. Matter to be taken to the United Nations, including the Security Council,” it continued.

Khan “directed that all diplomatic channels be activated to expose brutal Indian racist regime, design and human rights violations”, the statement added.

He also called on the military to continue its “vigilance”. 

Kashmir has been divided between Pakistan and India since independence in 1947.

They have contesting claims on the Himalayan region, and have fought two of their three wars over it. 

Earlier this year they came to the brink of war once more, after a deadly attack in Indian-held Kashmir was claimed by a militant group based in Pakistan, prompting tit-for-tat air strikes over the mountainous region.

The Pakistani military said on Tuesday that it “firmly stands” with Kashmiris. 

An armed rebellion against Indian rule has raged in the valley since 1989, claiming more than 70,000 lives, mostly civilians.

Long a semi-autonomous state where only local residents could buy land or take government jobs, Kashmir’s new status is as a territory directly ruled by New Delhi.

Its summer capital Srinagar appeared a ghost town on Wednesday as the security lockdown took hold, with armed soldiers on corners and in front of barbed wire barricades among the few people to be seen in the streets.

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