ISLAMABAD/SRINAGAR – Pakistan halted its main train service to India on Thursday and banned Indian films as it exerted diplomatic pressure on New Delhi for revoking the special status of Kashmir, the region at the heart of 70 years of hostility between them.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government this week withdrew Muslim majority Jammu and Kashmir’s right to frame its own laws and allowed people from outside the region to buy property there in a bid to tighten its grip over the contested region.
Kashmir remained under a communications blackout on Thursday with mobile networks and internet services suspended and at least 300 politicians and separatists in detention to prevent protests, according to police, media and political leaders.
Kashmir’s leaders have warned of a backlash and Pakistan, which also lays claims to the Himalayan territory, vowed to fight for the rights of people living there.
“Pakistan is looking at political, diplomatic and legal options,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a news conference in Islamabad, though he ruled out a new military conflict.
“We’re not looking at the military option. We’re not,” he said. The nuclear rivals have twice gone to war over Kashmir and fought an aerial duel in February.
India said changing the status of Kashmir was an internal affair and aimed at developing the region. It urged Pakistan to reconsider its decision to downgrade diplomatic ties, striking a conciliatory tone.
“The Government of India regrets the steps announced by Pakistan yesterday and would urge that country to review them so that normal channels for diplomatic communications are preserved,” the foreign ministry said.
Islamabad said on Wednesday it would expel India’s ambassador to Pakistan and its envoy, who was to start his assignment soon, would not move to New Delhi.
On Wednesday, during Pakistan’s National Security Committee meeting presided by Prime Minister Imran Khan, it was decided that “all diplomatic channels be activated to expose brutal Indian racist regime.”
Among the measures, “downgrading of diplomatic relations and suspension of bilateral trade,” was also announced.
Khan further ordered the “Pakistani Armed Forces to continue vigilance,” and is set to take the Indian government’s decision to the United Nations.
BAN ON INDIAN CINEMA
On Thursday, Pakistan said it would ban the screening of Indian movies in the country’s cinemas. The two nations have previously banned each other’s artistic content, or artists, when tensions have escalated.
India’s Bollywood industry has banned Pakistani artists since 2016, when militants attacked an army camp in Kashmir and killed several soldiers. India blames Pakistan-backed militant groups for the attack, an allegation that Pakistan has denied.
“No Bollywood movie has released in Pakistan this year, and I don’t think producers are even looking at it as a market,” film distributor and industry tracker Girish Johar said.
While Indian films are hugely popular in Pakistan, most find their way into the country via pirated copies, he said.
“Even if business were getting affected, I don’t think any Bollywood producer would want to release their film in Pakistan. National interests will come above all else,” said Atul Mohan, a Mumbai-based movie business analyst.
Pakistan’s decision to downgrade diplomatic relations and suspend bilateral trade with India as a retaliatory measure to New Delhi revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was done to spread alarm, India’s Ministry of External Affairs said Thursday.
“The intention behind these measures (to downgrade diplomatic relations) is obviously to present an alarming picture to the world of our bilateral ties,” the Ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
“The Government of India regrets the steps announced by Pakistan yesterday and would urge that country to review them so that normal channels for diplomatic communications are preserved,” the ministry further said.
“The recent developments pertaining to Article 370 are entirely the internal affair of India. The Constitution of India was, is and will always be a sovereign matter,” the ministry statement said.
It further added that “seeking to interfere in that jurisdiction by invoking an alarmist vision of the region will never succeed.
The Indian government’s decision sought to provide, “opportunities for development,” which were “denied” previously, the statement continued.