Tensions bubble in disputed Kashmir ahead of regional summit

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Syed Salahuddin (right), leader of the United Jihad Council, leads a protest against the planned visit of Indian Interior Minister Rajnath Singh in Islamabad, Pakistan on Aug. 3. Photo by Faisal Mahmood/Reuters

Syed Salahuddin (right), leader of the United Jihad Council, leads a protest against the planned visit of Indian Interior Minister Rajnath Singh in Islamabad, Pakistan on Aug. 3. Photo by Faisal Mahmood/Reuters

Protests and diplomatic tensions are on the rise along the border of India and Pakistan as government officials from several Southeast Asian countries met in Pakistan on Wednesday for a regional summit.

The government ministers in charge of internal security and domestic issues are gathering as part of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation this week. They plan to discuss a variety of issues from terrorism to human trafficking.

But the issues on the agenda are being overshadowed by the unrest.

More than 40 people have been killed in the past month in the disputed Kashmir region, which India and Pakistan both claim, in clashes between activists and Indian security forces, according to Indian media.

On Wednesday, hundreds of activists from a charity linked to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group attempted to cross into the Indian section of Kashmir. They didn’t have permission from either India or Pakistan to enter the territory, so they staged a protest instead.

After meeting with Pakistani officials last month to discuss the growing violence, India’s spokesman for external affairs released a statement saying the protests were led by “U.N.-designated terrorists.” He asked Pakistan to stop inciting violence and terrorism in the country and “meddling in our internal affairs.”

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Pakistani officials have written letters to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressing concern over what they are calling human rights violations by India in the Kashmir Valley.

At a U.S. State Department press briefing on July 29, department spokesman John Kirby was asked about reports, including from Human Rights Watch, of Indian security forces using pellet guns on protesters. Kirby said the department is in touch with its Indian counterparts and is encouraging all sides to find a peaceful solution.

“We’re obviously concerned by the violence and we want to see the tensions de-escalated,” he said.

A curfew remains in effect in the Kashmir Valley, where government offices, schools and most businesses are closed during the day.

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