By Ayaz Gul
Pakistan organized nationwide annual marches and rallies Friday to reaffirm its political support for residents of the India-ruled part of Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region split between the two arch-rival countries.
The highlight of the government-led “Kashmir Solidarity Day” was Prime Minister Imran Khan’s address to a big public gathering in the Pakistan-ruled portion of Kashmir.
Khan reiterated his country’s call for arranging a decades-old United Nations-mandated plebiscite to allow Kashmiris to decide on whether they want to join Pakistan or India.
“When you get the right to decide on your future, and when the people of Kashmir, God willing, will vote in favor of Pakistan, I want to assure you that after that Pakistan will give Kashmiris the right to decide whether you want to be independent or a part of Pakistan,” Khan said.
New Delhi and Islamabad both claim Kashmir in its entirety. The territorial dispute has sparked two of the three wars between the nuclear-armed South Asian neighboring countries since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.
The U.N. Security Council passed the resolution in 1948 promising Kashmiris the right to choose between Pakistan and India. But the proposed plebiscite did not include total independence of Kashmir as an option.
India is opposed to holding such a plebiscite and wants a resolution of the dispute through bilateral talks with Pakistan under a 1972 so-called Simla Agreement between the two countries.
New Delhi has long accused Islamabad of training and funding separatist groups in Kashmir, charges Pakistani officials deny.
In August 2019, India unilaterally canceled the decades-old semi-autonomous status for its administered Kashmir, dividing the region into two union territories.
New Delhi also placed the region under a strict security and communications clampdown for months to counter a violent backlash from Kashmiris to its controversial action.
Pakistan rejected the Indian actions in Kashmir and downgraded bilateral ties.
Khan reiterated in his speech Friday that his government was ready to hold talks with India to discuss Kashmir, provided New Delhi restored the semi-autonomous constitutional status of the region and removed the ensuing restrictions and laws.
Meanwhile, Pakistani officials in southwestern Baluchistan province said Friday’s separate Kashmir Day rallies there were struck by bombing attacks, killing at least two people and wounding more than two dozen.
Senior provincial police officials said the attacks were under investigation.
There were no immediate claims of responsibly for the violence in Baluchistan, where banned extremist and separatist groups routinely plot such attacks. Pakistani officials accuse the Indian spy agency of funding the militants, charges New Delhi denies.