Thousands Rally For Kashmir In Pakistan

5 February 2009
Agence France-Presse

Islamabad: Thousands of Pakistanis took to the streets on Thursday to denounce Indian rule in Kashmir, the disputed Muslim-majority Himalayan state divided between the nuclear-armed rivals. A public holiday, Kashmir Solidarity Day supports the region's right to self-determination under UN resolutions that call for a plebiscite in Kashmir on whether it should be ruled by Hindu-majority India or Muslim Pakistan. Relations between India and Pakistan, who fought two of their three wars since independence over Kashmir, have become increasingly tense after 10 gunmen killed 165 people in Mumbai last November. India blamed the attacks on Lashkar-e-Taiba - the most powerful hardline Pakistan-based group fighting Indian rule in Kashmir - although the organisation denied responsibility. In the capital Islamabad, some 2,000 people formed a human chain opposite parliament during a rally organised by the main Islamist party, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), an AFP photographer said. 'We will never accept Indian occupation of Kashmir and tell India that it cannot enslave people by force,' JI chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed told the rally. Kashmir was split in two in the deadly aftermath of independence on the subcontinent when British rule ended in 1947. Both India and Pakistan claim the entire territory, which is divided by a heavily militarised Line of Control. In Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city, political parties and human rights organisations arranged several rallies. More than 4,000 people gathered at Lahore's main Mall Road, an AFP reporter said. Carrying placards and banners, protesters shouted slogans such as 'Kashmir is the jugular vein of Pakistan,' and 'The struggle will continue until the liberation of Kashmir.' Banners and hoardings calling for Kashmir's freedom from Indian rule were put up alongside main roads and intersections across Pakistan. More than 47,000 people - more than one third of them civilians - have been killed since a Muslim insurgency broke out in Indian Kashmir in 1989. The legislative assembly in Pakistan-administered Kashmir passed a resolution asking the United Nations to implement Security Council resolutions and 'press' India to allow Kashmiris to exercise self determination. But heavy rain saw Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani cancel a planned visit to Muzaffarabad, the speaker of the assembly, Shah Ghulam Qadir, told AFP. Around 500 Kashmiris formed human chain in Muzaffarabad in the rain, shouting 'Kashmir will become part of Pakistan' and 'we salute the martyrs'. President Asif Ali Zardari, who last year sparked controversy by reportedly calling Islamic militants in Kashmir 'terrorists', expressed solidarity. 'I wish to reassure my Kashmiri brethren that Pakistan remains firmly committed to finding a just and peaceful solution of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the aspirations of the people of Kashmir,' he said. India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring the Islamist insurgency in Kashmir. Pakistan denies the claim but has often spoken in support of the fighters.