Hundreds from Pakistan to march toward Kashmir border

KARACHI, Pakistan

Hundreds of Kashmiris belonging to a pro-independence group are set to march toward the Line of Control (LoC) — a de facto border that divides disputed Jammu and Kashmir between Pakistan and India.

The rally billed as “Freedom March” will protest New Delhi’s move to scrap the special status of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir in August. It is being organized by Pakistan-administered Azad Kashmir chapter of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a group led by the incarcerated pro-independence leader Yasin Malik.

The JKLF demands an independent Kashmir, free from both India and Pakistan.

The marchers who have gathered in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir plan to cross the LoC to Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, an event unlikely to happen.

Rafiq Dar, a spokesman for the JKLF, said “many thousands“ had already gathered in Muzaffarabad from across Azad Kashmir and Pakistan “to march toward Srinagar”.

“We have all legal rights to cross over the LoC because we do not recognize the division of Kashmiris. Secondly, the UN resolutions have also accepted the free exit and entrance to both parts of Kashmir,“ Dar told Anadolu Agency over the phone.

“Therefore, we appeal to the government and the army to allow us to cross over [LoC] and face the Indian troops,” he added.

Dar said the marchers will remain peaceful and not indulge in any kind of violence.

A government official requesting not to be named told Anadolu Agency that over 500 JKLF supporters, including 50 women, have so far gathered in Muzaffarabad. Hundreds more are expected to join the marchers on Saturday.

Raja Iftikhar, a local journalist, speaking to Anadolu Agency, put the numbers of protesters at 3,000 to 4,000.

In the past many such attempts have been thwarted by Pakistan Army soldiers dotting the border. This attempt is expected to be treated similarly.

Already frosty relations between the two South Asian nuclear rivals, have touched a new low after India scrapped special provisions of the state of Jammu and Kashmir which allowed it semi-autonomity.

The state has been under a near-complete lockdown since Aug. 5.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in his address to the United Nations General Assembly session last week warned of a potential nuclear war with India following a simmering crisis in disputed Jammu and Kashmir.

Several rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have repeatedly called on India to lift restrictions and release political detainees.

Indian authorities, however, claim that daytime restrictions have been lifted in 93% of the region, a claim Anadolu Agency could not verify independently.

From 1954 until Aug. 5, 2019, Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed special status under the Indian constitution, which allowed it to enact its own laws.

The provisions also protected the region’s citizenship law, which barred outsiders from settling in and owning land in the territory.

India and Pakistan both hold Kashmir in parts and claim it in full. China also controls part of the contested region, but it is India and Pakistan who have fought two wars over Kashmir.
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