Pakistan’s military will "go to any extent" to support Kashmiris, the army chief has said, while Imran Khan predicted new suicide bombings in Indian-administered Kashmir after Delhi revoked the region’s self-rule.
Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa said the military which largely controls Pakistan’s regional security policy “stands by the Kashmiris in their just struggle to the very end".
Residents of Indian-administered Kashmir were on Tuesday still under a security crackdown with phones and internet cut after the sudden decision to abolish political autonomy in the disputed Muslim majority territory.
As Pakistan’s parliament met to discuss the move, Mr Khan predicted there would be more terrorist attacks in Kashmir like the blast which killed 40 paramilitary police in Pulwama in February. India blamed that attack on Pakistan and the two sides came close to war.
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“With an approach of this nature, incidents like Pulwama are bound to happen again. I can already predict this will happen,” Mr Khan said.
The preacher who led a 2007 Islamist uprising that was put down in a bloody siege released an audio message on Tuesday, saying if Pakistan’s government could not help people in Kashmir, then it should open the border for militants to fight.
Mullah Masood Azhar, chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group which India blames for killing 40 paramilitary police in February and a string of other attacks, said Delhi’s decision marked a new chapter for the Kashmir conflict.
He told followers: “Now its the time that Kashmiris need to come out with unity and then the enemy will be begging for peace and negotiations.”
Pakistan’s military has for decades been accused of harbouring and supporting jihadists such as Jaish-e-Mohammad to push its agenda in Kashmir and Afghanistan.
It promised a crackdown earlier in the year, but American officials told Gen Bajwa and Imran Khan during their successful visit to Washington last month that they still wanted to see “irreversible action” against terrorist and militant groups.
The Kashmir crisis now means Pakistan’s military has to decide whether to between defying America just as relations appeared to be warming, said Farzana Shaikh, a Pakistan expert at the Chatham House think tank.
She said: “Pakistan has fine tuned the business of plausible deniability, so there is still the possibility that these groups, some of them will be unleashed. But it’s really not clear what [the army’s] going to do now given that it was until recently basking in the glow of a new era in US-Pakistan relations.”