Pakistan suspends train service, partially closes airspace with India

ISLAMABAD, Aug 8: Pakistan on Thursday suspended rail service linking it to India, as relations with its arch rival continue to sour over the contested Kashmir region.

“We have decided to shut down Samjhauta Express,” railways minister Sheikh Rasheed told a news conference on Thursday, in reference to the train running to India’s capital New Delhi from the Pakistani city of Lahore.

Pakistan also partially closed its airspace hours after downgrading its diplomatic relations with India in the wake of New Delhi`s decision to abrogate Article 370 that granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir and make it a Union Territory.

The airspace will be closed from August 6 till September 5 between 2:45 am to 11 am (local time) every day except Sundays, according to the Notice to Airmen (NOTAMS) issued by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The CAA made changes in routes for all airlines specifically for Lahore region and increased the minimum limit of the altitude of flights, ARY News reported.

“Foreign aircraft will not be allowed to fly below the 46,000-feet altitude in Lahore region while flights from Afghanistan have been ordered to take alternate routes,” the NOTAM said.
On July 16, Pakistan had fully opened its airspace for all flights after it was closed down following the Balakot airstrike by India in February.

Earlier, the Pakistan government decided to downgrade diplomatic relations with India and suspend bilateral trade amid tensions between the two neighbours following New Delhi`s decision to strip the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan chaired a meeting of the National Security Committee and discussed the situation arising out of the “unilateral illegal” actions by the Indian government in Jammu and Kashmir and along the Line of Control (LoC).

Pakistan has also asked the Indian government to call back its High Commissioner to Islamabad Ajay Bisaria. New Delhi has also been informed that Islamabad would not be sending its high commissioner-designate to India, Moin-ul-Haq, who was expected to officially take charge on August 16.
The Indian government on Monday scrapped Article 370 of the Constitution that accorded special status to Jammu and Kashmir and barred people from the rest of the country from buying property there. The BJP-led Centre also passed a bill converting Jammu and Kashmir into a Union Territory with a legislature, while hiving off Ladakh as a separate Union Territory without legislature.
Modi’s Hindu nationalist led government, which has long campaigned for an end to Kashmir’s special status, said it would split the state into two federal territories that the region’s leaders labeled a further humiliation.

Thousands of paramilitary police have been deployed in Kashmir’s largest city, Srinagar, schools shut and roads and neighborhoods barricaded.

There have been sporadic protests, two police officers said, speaking on condition of anonymity. At least 13 people have been injured in stone-throwing protests across the city since Tuesday night, one officer said.

Srinagar’s old quarter was locked down on Wednesday evening, with policemen in riot gear deployed every few meters, and barbed-wire checkpoints every few hundred meters.
Near the Jama Masjid, which has long been the center of protests in Srinagar, bricks and rocks from recent stone pelting incidents were strewn in at least three locations.
A witness said that there had also been stone-throwing in the Bemina area in northwest Srinagar, where some roads had been blocked by poles and boulders.

“There is a lot of anger among the people,” one of the police officials said.

Kashmiris see Modi’s decision to withdraw the special status as a breach of trust and opening the way to flooding their region with people from the rest of India, eventually altering the demographics of the territory.

Already tens of thousands of people have died in the armed revolt to secede from India that erupted in 1989 and has ebbed and flowed since then.

Two leaders from the National Conference, a major regional party, said at least 100 politicians – including former state ministers and legislators – had been detained. They did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the information.

Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella group of non-violent separatists, has been detained at his home, a statement from his office said.

Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Kashmir.

“Whatever disagreements we may have, we must always defend human rights, prioritize the safety of children and women and focus on peacefully resolve the seven-decade-old conflict in Kashmir,” she said on Twitter.