India has dismissed Pakistan’s “alarmist” reaction to its decision to strip Indian-administered Kashmir of its autonomy, and warned its nuclear-armed rival against interfering in what it insisted was an “internal affair”.
India revoked Kashmir’s special status in its constitution on Monday and brought it under its direct rule, escalating tensions with Pakistan which also claims the Muslim-majority region in its entirety.
Pakistan responded by downgrading its diplomatic relations with India on Wednesday, announcing that it would expel the Indian ambassador and suspend bilateral trade.
In a statement on Thursday, India’s Ministry of External Affairs said the decision to remove Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which gave Kashmir a relative degree of autonomy, was “entirely the internal affair of India”.
“Seeking to interfere in that jurisdiction by invoking an alarmist vision of the region will never succeed,” it said.
“The government of India regrets the steps announced by Pakistan … and would urge that country to review them so that normal channels for diplomatic communications are preserved.”
New Delhi slammed Pakistan’s actions as “alarmist”, adding that its move would boost economic development in the Himalayan region.
The countries have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir.
Meanwhile, media reports from Pakistan said its foreign office has rejected the revocation of Article 370 as India’s “internal matter” and said the issue should be settled by the United Nations.
News website The Express Tribune quoted Pakistan’s spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Faisal, as saying that Islamabad has written to the UN Security Council, asking it to look into India’s “unilateral and illegal” move.
Pakistan’s minister of railways said it has decided to “shut down” a train service linking the two countries.
More than 500 arrested: Reports
The diplomatic spat between the two countries came as reports said more than 500 people were rounded up in the latest crackdown in Indian-administered Kashmir, which is under a strict curfew to suppress any unrest in response to the loss of autonomy.
University professors, business leaders and activists were among the 560 people taken to makeshift detention centres – some during midnight raids – in the cities of Srinagar, Baramulla and Gurez, the Press Trust of India and the Indian Express reported.
The detentions came as Prime Minister Narendra Modi was set to address the nation on the radio later on Thursday to explain his Hindu nationalist government’s decision.
Reporting from New Delhi, Al Jazeera’s Priyanka Gupta said while residents in Kashmir valley are “used to living under curfews and clampdowns,” the ongoing lockdown is “unprecedented”.
Tens of thousands of Indian troops have enforced the lockdown which includes no internet or phone services, and are allowing only limited movement on streets usually bustling with tourists flocking to the picturesque valley.
“Emergency services are badly affected. Even though hospitals and fire stations are working, there is no way people can call these places and ask for ambulances to come if patients need urgent care,” said Gupta.
“Hundreds of thousands of people are completely cut off from the rest of the country and the world.”
‘Worried about safety of women, children’
Experts warn that the Kashmir valley is likely to erupt in anger at the government’s shock unilateral move once the restrictions are lifted, which could come as soon as the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha on Monday.
Late on Wednesday, India’s aviation security agency advised airports across the country to step up security as “civil security has emerged as a soft target for terrorist attacks” on the back of the Kashmir move.
Meanwhile, a petition was filed with India’s Supreme Court on Thursday by an activist challenging the curfew in Kashmir, which was imposed to suppress any unrest in response to the loss of autonomy.
Activist Tahseen Poonawala and lawyer ML Sharma asked the Supreme Court to lift the lockdown and release people who have been arrested as part of the crackdown.
Pakistani Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012, tweeted that she was “worried about the safety of the Kashmiri children and women, the most vulnerable to violence and the most likely to suffer losses in conflict”.
“I believe we all can live in peace,” she added, in comments that were supported and criticised by Twitter users from India and Pakistan.