Indian security agencies arrested hundreds of people and cut the disputed area off from all communication after India scrapped a law key to Kashmir's autonomy. This escalated tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad which both claim Kashmir in full.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi during a news conference at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad, Pakistan on August 20, 2018.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi during a news conference at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad, Pakistan on August 20, 2018. (Reuters Archive)

Pakistan is not looking at a military option over Kashmir, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Thursday, after neighbouring India stripped the disputed region of its autonomy.

However, Pakistan reserves the right to respond to any Indian aggression, Qureshi told a news conference in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

"We're not looking at military options," Qureshi said, adding, "Don't we reserve a right to respond in case of any aggression?"

TRT World's Kamran Yousuf brings more from Pakistan's capital Islamabad.

Indian PM defends decision

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the downgrading of Indian-administered Kashmir from a state to a federally controlled territory will help end decades of terrorism and separatism incited by archrival Pakistan.

In a nationally broadcast speech Thursday, Modi described changes imposed this week by his government in Kashmir as historic and assured its residents that the situation will soon become normal.

Modi said the "mainstreaming" of the Kashmiri people with the rest of the nation would expedite development and create new jobs with investment from public and private companies.

He accused Pakistan of using the past arrangement "as a weapon to incite people of the region against India," and said he has complete faith that the new system will be able to free Kashmir from terrorism and separatism.

TRT World's Neha Poonia reports from India's capital New Delhi.

UN chief calls for restraint

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday called on India and Pakistan to refrain from any steps that could affect the special status of the disputed regions of Kashmir and Jammu.

Guterres was "concerned over reports of restrictions on Indian-side of Kashmir," and warned that such actions could "exacerbate the human rights situation in region," Guterres' spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said in a statement.

Both India and Pakistan administer separate portions of the Kashmir region but claim it in full. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government split Indian-administered Kashmir into two federal territories on Monday to allow the government greater control. It scrapped a law key to the ascension treaty which gave the Muslim majority region the right to make its own laws and lifting a decades-old ban on people from outside the state from buying property there.

India cut off all communication channels in Kashmir, while its paramilitary forces reportedly blocked entry and exit points in major towns and cities since then. No one is allowed to step out of their homes. 

Pakistan said on Thursday it would suspend a rail service linking it to India.

“We have decided to shut down Samjhauta Express,” railways minister Sheikh Rasheed told a news conference on Thursday, in reference to the train running to India's capital New Delhi from the Pakistani city of Lahore.

Pakistan downgrades diplomatic, trade ties

Pakistan announced on Wednesday that it is downgrading its diplomatic ties with India and suspending bilateral trade.

The Kashmir region is divided between India and Pakistan. The two nuclear-armed neighbours have fought three wars, two of them over control of Kashmir since they won independence from British colonialists in 1947. In 1999, the two sides faced off in Kargil, but this did not lead to a full-fledged war.

Two months after India won independence from British rule, Maharaja Hari Singh, the then-ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, signed a Treaty of Accession for the state to join the rest of the union, formalised in Article 370 of the Indian constitution. 

Under the accession terms, India's jurisdiction was only to extend to Kashmir's external affairs, defence and communications.

"We're deeply concerned that the latest restrictions in the India-administrated Kashmir will exacerbate the human rights situation in the region," said the UN, which criticised the unprecedented Indian lockdown in the Himalayan region.

Insurgent groups have been fighting for Kashmir's independence from India, or its merger with Pakistan, since 1989. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies.

Communication blackout

Hit by a complete security lockdown in Kashmir, hundreds of poor migrant workers have begun fleeing the Himalayan region to return to their far-away villages in northern and eastern India.

Some complained on Wednesday that their Kashmiri employers didn't pay them any salary as Indian security forces began imposing tight travel restrictions over the weekend and asked them to leave their jobs. 

On Wednesday, workers crowded the railroad station at Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, as they waited for trains bound for Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand. They carried their belongings on their heads and under their arms, tied in bedsheets.

Worker Jagdish Mathur said many people walked for kilometres on a highway and hitched rides on army trucks and buses from Srinagar to Jammu, a distance of 260 kilometres.

"We haven't eaten properly for the past four days," said Mathur, adding that he doesn't have money to buy a rail ticket to take him to his village in eastern Bihar state. "The government should help me."

Every year, tens of thousands of people travel to Kashmir from various Indian states looking for work, mainly masonry, carpentry and agriculture. Whenever the security situation deteriorates, they return homes. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies