Pakistan is prepared to “fight to the end” over Kashmir if necessary, Prime Minister Imran Khan said Wednesday during a speech from the Pakistani-controlled part of the disputed region.
Khan, who was in Kashmir to mark Pakistan’s independence day, accused India of trying to marginalize and radicalize the region’s Muslims. He also called New Delhi’s move to strip Indian-controlled Kashmir of its autonomy a “strategic blunder” by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Khan’s address comes a week after India’s parliament voted to reclassify the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir as a union territory, allowing New Delhi greater authority over the country’s only Muslim-majority region.
The territory is one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints. Claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, it has been the epicenter for more than 70 years of an often violent territorial struggle between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
Khan declared himself a pacifist during his speech from Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, saying he believed in dialogue.
“I don’t want war but it’s clear now that they don’t want to talk,” he said. “War will not help us at all.”
“We will fight to the end if it comes to that. To the very end. And at the end of that path, Kashmir will be independent,” Khan added.
Khan said he had information that India was planning a “false-flag operation” in Kashmir. “We know, the army knows it. We are prepared,” he said.
Indian-controlled Kashmir remains in lockdown amid a communications blackout, with landline connections, internet and mobile coverage all suspended.
India has said it will restore communications, but a definitive date for this has not been given. The spokeswoman for the Ministry of Home Affairs tweeted Tuesday that restrictions were “being eased out in a phased manner.”
Tens of thousands of additional Indian troops have been deployed into the already heavily-militarized region to head off unrest.
Modi has repeatedly insisted that the special status of Jammu and Kashmir had restricted investment and economic growth. Revoking that status was one of the promises he made ahead of recent national elections.
In a televised speech last Thursday, Modi said the decision to strip the state of its autonomy would free it of “terrorism” and claimed the decision would bring stability to the restive territory.
India will celebrate its own independence day, marking the country’s break from British colonial rule in 1947, on Thursday.
Pakistan’s government announced on Wednesday that it would observe India’s independence day as a “black day,” with flags on government buildings flying at half mast, according to Reuters.
On Wednesday, Khan said Pakistan was mobilizing Kashmiri populations around the world to protest in support of the Kashmiri people, including in London.
“I am with my Kashmiri brothers at a time when they are facing their biggest crisis,” he said, adding that he wanted to become “Kashmir’s ambassador to the world.”
Khan also reiterated his claim that the Hindu nationalist ideology of the Indian government – run by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – was inspired by Nazi ideology.
“They believe Muslims have no space in India,” Khan said Wednesday. “We are scared, deep inside, waiting to find out what horrors await after the blackout.”