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Monday, 07 October 2019 15:05

'Freedom March' in Pakistan-Held Kashmir

ISLAMABAD - Thousands of residents of Pakistan-held Kashmir rallied Saturday to press for their demand that India lift a two-month old clampdown in its controlled portion of the disputed region.

The protest came on a day when U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen arrived in Pakistan after visiting India, where he was refused permission to personally visit Kashmir to assess the situation.

Van Hollen urged New Delhi to ensure protection of human rights, restore communications and release political prisoners in the disputed territory.

The protesters in Pakistani-administered Kashmir were calling for the region's independence from both the countries and they were headed to the Line of Control (LoC), which divides the Himalayan territory, vowing to force their way into the Indian side.

Local police have placed roadblocks just a few kilometres from the LoC, however, to prevent the rally from reaching the de facto border.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government on August 5 unilaterally scrapped a decades old constitutional semi-autonomous status for the country’s only Muslim-majority state.

New Delhi has since deployed tens of thousands of additional troops, cut phone and internet services, and arrested nearly 4,000 people, including the region's top political leadership, journalists and lawyers, amid serious allegations of torture and abuses.

The unprecedented lockdown has effectively isolated millions of Kashmiris from the rest of the world. India also has not permitted diplomats or foreign journalists to visit Kashmir.

“We think it’s important that journalists and others be permitted to see exactly what's going on with their own eyes. That's why I had wanted to go there so that we can get the truth and get all the facts,” Hollen said. He is accompanied by U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan on the visit.

Saturday’s protest demonstration was being led by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) group, which operates on both sides and has been seeking total independence from India and Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan asked the protesters to desist from crossing the Kashmir LoC, saying it would give India “an excuse to increase violent oppression of Kashmiris” on the other side.

Last week, while Khan was addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York, he emphatically urged member nations to intervene to persuade India to lift its siege of Kashmir before it results in another direct military conflict between the two nuclear-armed nations.

The United States also has called on India to ease restrictions in Kashmir. Since the scrapping of the region’s special status by New Delhi, dozens of U.S. lawmakers have expressed concerns over what they have described as the “humanitarian crisis” in Kashmir.

Darul Ihsan Media Desk

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