Thousands of people from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir were on Sunday stopped from marching towards the highly militarised Line of Control to protest India’s move to scrap the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and to express solidarity with Kashmiris.
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday warned the protesters not to cross the LoC, saying anyone crossing it to provide humanitarian aid or support for Kashmiris will “play into the hands of the Indian narrative.”
Tension between India and Pakistan escalated after New Delhi revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status on August 5.
Pakistan downgraded diplomatic ties with New Delhi and expelled the Indian High Commissioner. Islamabad has been trying to internationalise the Kashmir issue but India has asserted that the abrogation of Article 370 was its “internal matter”. New Delhi has also asked Islamabad to accept the reality and stop its anti-India rhetoric.
The demonstrators, mostly youngsters, resumed their march from Garhi Dupatta where they had reached on Saturday from Muzaffarabad, the capital of the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
They were moving on the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar Highway, but the authorities blocked the road by putting containers and barbed wires at Jiskool, which is almost 6-8 kilometres from the LoC.
Some of the protestors tried to remove the barbed wires but were stopped by police. Others tried to circumvent the blockage by climbing the steep mountains but could not do so as heavy contingent of police was deployed to foil any such attempt.
The protest march has been organised by Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). A local JKLF leader Rafiq Dar told the media that they would try to convince the authorities to let them go up to Chakothi - a village about 3 kilometres from the LoC.
“I hope they will allow us carry on our peaceful march to the town of Chakothi. Our march is peaceful, and we do not want any kind of confrontation,” he said.
Dar said UN Military Observers Group for India and Pakistan had also contacted them. He said the UN was urged to persuade India and Pakistan to not use force against peaceful protestors.
Dubbed as the ‘freedom march’, the organisers have announced to cross the LoC to defy the line dividing Kashmir and show support for the people of Kashmir.
The protestors were chanting mostly anti-India slogans and most of their banners carried anti-India messages.
The protestors started the march on Friday from different parts of PoK and got together in Muzafarabad from where they started moving towards the LoC on Saturday but stayed for overnight at Garhi Dupatta.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi urged US Senator Chris Van Hollen to visit areas on the two sides of the LoC to see the ground situation.
Hollen, along with US Charge d’Affaires Ambassador Paul Jones, travelled to Multan on Saturday afternoon to meet with Qureshi, the Foreign Office said in statement issued after midnight.
Qureshi appreciated Senator’s leadership role in proposing an amendment to the Senate Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill, 2020 that explicitly expresses concern about the "humanitarian crisis in Kashmir".