MUZAFFARABAD: Pakistanç—´ Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses the assembly in the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir yesterday. – AFP

MUZAFFARABAD/NEW DELHI: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed to “fight until the end” against any Indian aggression in the disputed region of Kashmir. The warning represented a dramatic escalation in rhetoric after Islamabad said last week that they had ruled out a “military option” over the Kashmir dispute. The remarks come as tensions skyrocketed between the nuclear-armed rivals following India’s surprising move to revoke the autonomy of its portion of the disputed Himalayan territory last week.

“The Pakistani army has solid information that they (India) are planning to do something in Pakistani Kashmir, and they are ready and will give a solid response,” Khan said during a televised speech in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. “We have decided that if India commits any type of violation we will fight until the end,” Khan added in the speech marking the country’s Independence Day. “The time has arrived to teach you a lesson.”

The head of the Pakistani military also added that the country’s security forces were “fully ready to perform its part in line with our national duty for Kashmir cause”, according to a tweet from the army’s spokesperson. Khan and the military’s comments followed other fiery speeches in the territory’s parliament, with the prime minister of Pakistani Kashmir at one point begging for permission to cross the de-facto border dividing the territory and then later bragging about opening fire on Indian troops in the past.

The heated rhetoric follows days of rising hostilities from Islamabad. Following Delhi’s move to abolish Indian-administered Kashmir’s special status, Pakistan launched a diplomatic offensive aimed at reversing the order and formally asked the United Nations Security Council late Tuesday to hold an emergency session to address India’s “illegal actions”. Pakistan has also expelled the Indian ambassador, halted bilateral trade and suspended cross-border transport services. However, analysts said the actions were unlikely to move Delhi.

The Indian part of the picturesque Himalayan state has been under lockdown for over a week with tens of thousands of troop reinforcements deployed to the main city of Srinagar and other towns and villages. A curfew has also been enforced across the region and phone and Internet lines cut to quell potential unrest. Indian authorities vowed to reduce the restrictions on freedom of movement in their portion of Kashmir following the country’s own Independence Day celebrations on Thursday.

Earlier this week Khan lambasted the international community for failing to challenge India and said turning a blind eye to the spread of Indian Hindu nationalism was the same as appeasing Hitler – a comparison he again made yesterday. As tensions simmered with India, Pakistan moved ahead with independence celebrations which began at the stroke of midnight with firework shows lighting up the skies in major cities, where residents jammed the streets waving the national flag from their cars and motorcycles.

In August 1947 the British Raj was dismantled with the subcontinent divided into two independent states – Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. Millions were uprooted in one of the largest mass migrations in history, with experts estimating at least one million died in the communal violence unleashed by a partition that continues to haunt the subcontinent to this day.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan ever since, and has been the spark for two major wars and countless clashes between the two nuclear-armed arch-rivals. Earlier this year they came close to all-out conflict yet again, after a militant attack in Indian-held Kashmir in February was claimed by a group based in Pakistan, igniting tit-for-tat air strikes.

Meanwhile, India’s crippling 10-day-old curfew in Kashmir will ease after today, according to the state governor, but phone lines and the Internet will remain cut. India shut off communications and severely restricted movement in the part of Kashmir it controls on Aug 4, a day before New Delhi stripped the Muslim-majority region of its autonomy. Fearing protests and unrest in the long-restive region, tens of thousands of extra Indian troops have been deployed, turning the picturesque main city of Srinagar into a warren of barbed wire and barricades.

While rules on the movement of people would be eased after India’s Independence Day celebrations today, state governor Satya Pal Malik said that phone lines and the Internet would remain down. “We don’t want to give that instrument to the enemy until things settle down,” Malik told the Times of India. “In a week or 10 days, everything will be alright and we will gradually open lines of communication.”

The lockdown has not completely prevented anger at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move bursting out into the open, however. According to residents around 8,000 people protested after Friday prayers, with security forces firing tear gas and pellet-firing shotguns to break up the rally. Only on Tuesday did the Indian government confirm that clashes, blaming them on stone-throwing “miscreants” and saying its forces reacted with “restraint”.

Footage filmed by AFP on Monday showed hundreds of people protesting in the Soura area of Srinagar, shouting slogans such as “We want freedom” and “India go back” as helicopters buzzed overhead. “What India has done is unacceptable to us. Our struggle will continue even if India keeps Kashmir locked down for months,” one protester told AFP. India’s home ministry said Tuesday that since the curfew was imposed, “no bullets have been fired”.

But Munir Khan, a senior police officer in Kashmir, said that the military has used pellet-firing shotguns. “There have been 2-3 pellet injuries but they are nothing major. There is nothing grave,” Khan told AFP. He added that some security personnel were also injured. In Srinagar’s main SMHS Hospital, one young man was nursing his eye, saying he had been shot by pellets fired by soldiers as he came out of a mosque on Monday. “We could not pray in peace on the day of Eid. A large number of soldiers surrounded the mosque,” a man by his bedside said, also declining to give his name.

Elsewhere in the ward, six-year-old Munefa Nazir slept with her right eye bandaged as her family took turns waving a handheld fan to keep her cool. According to her uncle, she was shot in the eye by a marble fired from a catapult by an Indian soldier at a checkpoint as they rode on his scooter on Monday evening. “She screamed and blood from her eye started oozing through her fingers as she covered her face with both hands,” Farooq Ahmad said.

The 1,000-bed SMHS is usually busy but because of the curfew only a few beds were occupied in some sections. Many pharmacies have also run out of some supplies. “We have run out of a lot of prescription drugs people here look for,” said Mubashir Hussain, a salesman at a medical shop in the Jawahar Nagar area where restrictions on public and vehicular movement have been eased since Monday. – Agencies