Pakistan downgrades diplomatic relations, suspends trade with India over Kashmir move

Pakistan says it will expel the Indian ambassador as it downgrades diplomatic relations and suspends bilateral trade with India after New Delhi stripped the region of Kashmir of special semi-autonomous status.

Islamabad says it will expel Indian ambassador as the dispute grows

Traders march during an anti-Indian protest in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, as the country announced that it is expelling the Indian ambassador and suspending bilateral trade with its nuclear-armed neighbour, days after New Delhi stripped the disputed Kashmir region of special autonomy. (Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistan said on Wednesday it would expel India's ambassador and suspend bilateral trade with its arch-rival after New Delhi stripped its portion of the contested Kashmir region of special status.

Moin-ul-Haq, Pakistan's newly appointed ambassador to India, had yet to take up his post but will now not move to New Delhi, while Indian Ambassador Ajay Bisaria will be expelled, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in a telephone interview with Pakistani TV channel ARY News.

A spokesperson for India's Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Pakistan's move.

Neighbours China and Pakistan, which both claim parts of the region, have voiced fierce opposition to India's removal of a constitutional provision that had allowed the country's only Muslim-majority state to make its own laws.

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have twice waged war over Kashmir and in February engaged in an aerial clash. India, which has been battling insurgents there for 30 years, said the special status had hindered Kashmir's development and it wanted to fully integrate the region with the rest of the country.

Thousands of Indian security forces kept a lid on protests in Kashmir on Wednesday, helped by the continued suspension of telephone and internet services after the Himalayan region's special status was scrapped this week.

Streets in the main city of Srinagar were deserted for a third day, with almost all shops shut, barring some pharmacies. Armed federal police manned mobile checkpoints across the city, limiting people's movement.

'Localized' protests

Knots of young protesters threw stones at soldiers, police and a witness said, amid anger over the telecom clampdown that began on Sunday.

"These [protests] are mostly localized because of the heavy troop deployment," said a police officer who sought anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media, adding that police used tear gas and pepper spray to scatter the protesters.

A witness described an episode of hours of stone-throwing on Tuesday in the Old Barzullah area near the city centre, saying, "I saw around 100 boys, in small groups, pelting stones."

An Indian soldier stands guard as labourers from across India working in Kashmir wait outside a railway station to go back to their home states due to the heightened security situation. (Rakesh Bakshi/AFP/Getty Images)

He added, "The police fired tear gas to beat them back."

The Huffington Post reported that 13 people had been admitted with pellet injuries to their eyes to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital in Srinagar, citing a hospital official.

It also quoted a resident of the old quarter of Srinagar, Owais Ahmad, as saying he was walking near his house when paramilitary forces fired pellets at him.

The Home Ministry in India's capital Delhi said it had no information about the incident.

India accuses Pakistan of training and arming Islamist militants fighting its rule in Kashmir. Islamabad denies the allegation and says it only gives moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people in their struggle for self-determination.

India ordered security be increased at its airports, saying "civil aviation has emerged as a soft target." Security officials have warned of a backlash against the move to withdraw Kashmir's special status.

Continuous clampdown

All telephone, television and internet connections remained severed in Kashmir. At night, police vans have patrolled the streets with loudspeakers warning residents to stay indoors.

Jammu and Kashmir Gov. Satya Pal Malik asked officials to ensure people had enough supplies and assured them of their security, Reuters partner ANI said in a report.

Local authorities have not declared a curfew, but instead clamped down on non-essential travel and gatherings of four or more people, effectively keeping restive people in their homes.

Indian paramilitary soldiers stand guard during curfew in Kashmir as the region experiences a complete shutdown by India. (Dar Yasin/The Associated Press)

South Kashmir, the epicentre of the insurgency in recent years, was completely locked down, said a state government official who visited the area. "The highway was deserted, except for some trucks and buses carrying labourers out of the valley," added the official, who asked not to be named.

Officials with emergency services such as hospitals and the fire department said their staff were also frequently stopped at checkpoints, with access sometimes impeded.

Medical services blocked

The principal of Srinagar's Government Medical College, which runs Kashmir's largest hospital network, comprising about 3,500 beds, had to personally visit district officials to co-ordinate services or seek approvals, a hospital official said.

"The principal doesn't have any means of communication," added the official, who asked not to be identified. "Police stations have been given satellite phones but not him. That shows their [government's] priority."

About 200 police and local administration officials have received satellite phones, with several hundred more using a restricted military network, a police official said.

Srinagar's fire officials also fear people might not be able to reach them in emergencies. "Communication is a lifeline," said one fire official who requested anonymity. "Only if someone contacts us can we do something."

A radio communications network links Srinigar's 21 fire stations, but with telephone lines down and no satellite phones, firefighters can only be alerted by a call from police or an individual who visits a fire station.