Pakistan expels top diplomat and suspends trade with India over Kashmir dispute

Contested region remains on lockdown after New Delhi revokes special status

Conrad Duncan@theconradduncan
Wednesday 07 August 2019 21:40
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New Delhi protest over India's revocation of Kashmir status

Pakistan has announced plans to downgrade diplomatic relations and suspend trade with India over the decision to strip the contested Kashmir region of its special constitutional status.

India removed a constitutional provision on Monday that allowed Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority state, to make its own laws and placed the region on lockdown, with phone networks and internet cut off since Sunday evening.

Pakistan added that it would expel India’s top diplomat, high commissioner Ajay Bisaria, on Wednesday as part of the ongoing dispute.

"Our ambassadors will no longer be in New Delhi and their counterparts here will also be sent back,” foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said.

China, which also claims parts of the region, has strongly opposed the move to strip Kashmir of its autonomy.

India has claimed Kashmir’s special status has hindered the region’s development and said it wants to fully integrate the region with the rest of the country.

A spokesperson for India's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Pakistan's move.

The two countries have twice waged war over their disputed claims to Kashmir and engaged in an aerial clash over the territory in February.

India has accused Pakistan of training and arming Islamist militants fighting against the country in Kashmir.

However, Islamabad has denied the allegation and said it only gives moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people in their struggle for self-determination.

On Wednesday, thousands of Indian troops kept a lid on protests in the region, with almost all shops shut and the streets of the main city of Srinagar deserted for a third day.

Some young protesters were reportedly throwing stones at soldiers amid anger over the communications blackout that began on Sunday.

"These [protests] are mostly localised because of the heavy troop deployment," said a police officer who sought anonymity to speak to Reuters, adding that police used tear gas and pepper spray to scatter the protesters.

A witness, describing an episode of hours of stone-throwing on Tuesday in the Old Barzullah area near the city centre, said: "I saw around 100 boys, in small groups, pelting stones."

"The police fired tear gas to beat them back," he added.

The Huffington Post has reported that 13 people had been admitted with pellet injuries to their eyes to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital in Srinagar, citing a hospital official.

The Home Ministry in India's capital said it had no information about the incident.

All telephone, television and internet connections remained severed in Kashmir on Wednesday,

Meanwhile, officials for emergency services, such as hospitals and the fire department, have said their staff are being frequently stopped at checkpoints and sometimes blocked.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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