Thousands rallied across Pakistan Friday in mass demonstrations against Delhi’s actions in Indian-administered Kashmir, with the prime minister leading the most ambitious public protests targeting India in years.
At noon, sirens rang out around the country followed by broadcasts of the national anthems of Pakistan and Kashmir, while traffic ground to a halt for several minutes in solidarity with the rallies.
In the capital Islamabad, crowds gathered on Constitution Avenue in front of government offices, where Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed the nation and vowed to continue fighting for Kashmir until the disputed Himalayan territory was “liberated”.
“We will stand with Kashmir until our last breath,” said Khan, as he launched into a blistering attack on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, comparing his administration to the Third Reich in Nazi Germany.
Tensions have soared between the nuclear-armed rivals in the wake of Modi’s order to strip India’s portion of Kashmir of its autonomy and bring it under Delhi’s direct rule.
The area is currently in its fourth week of a wide-ranging communications blackout with severe restrictions on movement.
Thousands more also rallied in the major Pakistani cities of Lahore and Karachi, where large crowds waved flags and screamed pro-Kashmiri chants.
“No matter what India does, no matter what Modi does, Kashmir is ours. It belongs to us and we will not sit by as our Kashmiri brothers are oppressed by the Indians,” said Sadaf Mirza, a 24-year-old university student in Lahore.
The demonstrations were the first in what will be weekly rallies held nationwide until Khan leaves for New York next month to attend the United Nations General Assembly, where he has promised to raise the Kashmir issue.
Thousands of people have been incarcerated in the sweeping Kashmir crackdown, sources have told AFP.
In the weeks since it began, Khan has launched a diplomatic offensive to counter Delhi, vowing to fight India “until the end” if attacked and making occasional references to the possible outbreak of nuclear conflict.
Friday’s protests came as the New York Times published an editorial written by Khan, where the former cricketer warned of rising hostilities between the countries.
“World War II happened because of appeasement at Munich. A similar threat looms over the world again, but this time under the nuclear shadow,” wrote Khan.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since independence, and has been the spark for two major wars and countless skirmishes between the arch-rivals.
In February, the countries came close to all-out war, after a militant attack in Indian-held Kashmir was claimed by a group based in Pakistan, igniting tit-for-tat air strikes – the first between nuclear-armed nations.
The demonstrations in Pakistan also came a day after its military announced the testing of a surface-to-surface ballistic missile, with the army’s spokesman saying the weapon was “capable of delivering multiple types of warheads”.