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Pakistan downgrades relations with India as Kashmir lockdown continues

Reports of clashes in Kashmir

New Delhi – Pakistan announced it was downgrading its diplomatic relations with India Wednesday in response to India's earlier revocation of a consitutional amendment that granted the disputed region of Kashmir special, semi-autonomous status. Muslim-majority Kashmir borders both India and Pakistan, and both countries control parts of it but claim it in full. 

In a tweet, Pakistan's government announced it would also be suspending bilateral trade with India and taking the issue of Kashmir to the United Nations Security Council. Pakistan's foreign ministry said the country would be expelling the Indian envoy from Islamabad and recalling their High Commissioner from New Delhi.

India scrapped Article 370 of its constitution Monday, which gave the state of Jammu and Kashmir its own constitution and significant decision-making rights for everything apart from foreign affairs, communications, and defense. Indian parliament on Tuesday also passed a bill to split the restive state into two Union Territories, making way for the Indian central government to directly control the disputed region. 

Kashmir was divided between India and Pakistan after the two countries fought a war over the territory in 1947. Hundreds of civilians in Kashmir have been killed in clashes with Indian soldiers every year since 2008, when Kashmir's three-decades-old insurgency saw mass protests for the first time. An estimated 70,000 people have died in Kashmir since 1989 when anti-India militancy erupted.

Violent clashes feared

Sporadic clashes between anti-India protesters and paramilitary soldiers in Kashmir were reported Wednesday despite the strict curfew and the large number of Indian troops deployed in the region. At least one person was killed and six people were hospitalized with gunshot wounds, the AFP news agency reported. 

"Kashmir is experiencing an unprecedented lockdown," a politician in Kashmir, Shah Faesal, who flew to Delhi on Wednesday, wrote on Facebook. "LD hospital (a maternity hospital in Kashmir) is functioning beyond its capacity as expecting women are getting admitted days in advance to avoid any last moment hassles," he said. 

"Srinagar is a city of soldiers and spools of concertina wire," Muzammil Jaleel, a journalist who covers Kashmir, wrote on social media after leaving the territory.

Indian police say the situation has remained largely peaceful since the curfew was imposed on Sunday, but their main concern is the large-scale protests that are expected once the information blackout ends and news spreads of the revocation of Article 370 and the end of Kashmir's special status.  

Media blackout continues

On Wednesday, Kashmiris living outside the picturesque Himalayan valley were becoming desperate to speak to their families back home. CBS News spoke to several Kashmiris living outside of Kashmir. None of them had been able to get in touch with loved ones in the territory due to the communications blackout.

"I must have dialled my home thousands of times since Saturday, but the phone lines have been snapped, internet is shut. I can't sit here and not be with my family when they need me perhaps," Aazim Khan, a software engineer, told CBS News over the phone from Philadelphia. He was on his way back to Kashmir.

"It's so tough and tormenting… I am worried about my father who hasn't been well," Syed Mehreen Qadri, who is in graduate school in Australia, told CBS News. "There is so much apprehension and wild thoughts running in (my) mind." 

Automobile engineer Rameez Mushtaq, who lives in Australia, became so desperate to find out what was happening in his home that he tried calling satellite phone numbers for senior police officers but was unable to get a response.

"People in Kashmir are being held hostage in their own land," he told CBS News.

India has blocked internet access in Kashmir 178 times since 2012, and it has done so more than 50 times in 2019 alone, according to tracker internetshutdown.in. Landline phone connectivity, however, is rarely blocked. 

"If the internet can't be restored, why don't they at least open the landline phones for some hours a day?" Syed Sadia, who studies medicine in Bangladesh, told CBS News. She plans to fly home if the information blackout doesn't end soon.

China "seriously concerned"

Meanwhile, China has expressed dissatisfaction with the Indian government's decision to split Jammu and Kashmir state into two Union Territories. China claims the territory of Aksai Chin that it seized in the 1962 war with India. 

On Tuesday, China said it was "seriously concerned" about the situation and accused India of trying to "damage China's territorial sovereignty by unilaterally modifying the form of domestic law." Beijing called the move to revoke Kashmir's special status, "unacceptable."

India said it was, "an internal matter concerning the territory of India."

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