Pakistan halted its main train service to India 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.
Indian 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.
India and Pakistan administer separate parts of Kashmir, but both claim the region in its entirety and have fought two wars over it.
Pakistan would no longer operate a twice-a-week “service from Lahore to India in protest to the change in the status of Indian-administered Kashmir”, Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed said.
The Samjhauta Express is one of the two means of travelling between Pakistan and India along with a bus service between Lahore and the Indian capital of New Delhi.
The suspension was likely to impact thousands of people who travel across the border every week.
It was not announced whether Pakistan would also suspend the Lahore-New Delhi bus service.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Rasheed said the bogies of Samjhota Express will now be used for passengers travelling on the occasion of Eid within the country.
“Two special trains will run on Eid. We will try to improve the train schedule, timing, coaches and hygiene. The addition of 38 trains has enabled us to pick 7mn more passengers and earn Rs10bn,” Rasheed said.
He added: “(While) I am the railways minister, Samjhota Express train service will not operate.”
Rasheed added that all those who bought Samjhota Express tickets will be given a refund.
“The refund can be collected from the Railways Divisional Superintendent office in Lahore,” he said.
“The next three to four months are very important. War can happen [with India], but we do not want a war. If a war is waged on us, it will be the last one,” the railways minister warned.
The Samjhota Express train service was suspended earlier this year, due to escalating military tensions between the two neighbouring countries.
However, the service was later resumed.
Samjhota Express ran twice a week from Lahore to Attari on the Indian border via the Wagah railway station on the Pakistan side.
Meanwhile, Kashmir remained under a communications blackout yesterday 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 military conflict.
“We’re not looking at the military option. We’re not,” he stressed.
The nuclear rivals have twice gone to war over Kashmir and fought an aerial duel in February.
Tensions remained high, however, with Qureshi’s comments coming on the heels of a decision by Islamabad to downgrade its diplomatic ties with India, suspend bilateral trade, and expel the country’s envoy.
Pakistan has also promised to take the matter to the United Nations Security Council, while its military says it “firmly stands” with Kashmiris.
India said changing the status of Kashmir is 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 that it would expel India’s ambassador to Pakistan and its envoy, who was to start his assignment soon, would not move to New Delhi.
Pakistan said yesterday that 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.
Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, has called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Kashmir.
“Whatever disagreements we may have, we must always defend human rights, prioritise the safety of children and women and focus on peacefully resolve the seven-decade-old conflict in Kashmir,” she said on Twitter.
“I believe we all can live in peace,” she added, in comments that were supported and criticised by Twitter users from India and Pakistan.
Experts warn that the valley is likely to erupt in anger at the Indian government’s shock unilateral move once the restrictions are lifted, which could come on the Muslim festival of Eid on Monday.