On Friday, August 30, traffic and trains stopped in Pakistan at 12 pm as crowds gathered to show solidarity with the people in the Indian-controlled region of Kashmir. The event was led by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in response to India’s ongoing lockdown, including a high military presence and communications blackout, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This lockdown began in early August when India revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its partial autonomy. The division of Kashmir between Pakistan and India has long caused conflict, and through this protest, Prime Minister Khan wants to show that Pakistan supports Kashmir’s liberation, draw attention to what is happening, and gain international support before speaking on the issue and the United Nations General Assembly in late September.
On Friday, Imran Khan addressed demonstrators in Islamabad, saying “Today’s event is to let Kashmiris know that the nation is standing with Kashmiris through thick and thin… The message today that will go across the world is that till Kashmiris are given their independence, we the Pakistani nation are standing with them and will continue to do so.” Babar Khan, a teacher who attended the protest said, “What the Kashmiri people want should be respected. Whether they want to join India, join Pakistan or be independent.” Another protester, Najma Mazhar, told Al Jazeera, “It creates pressure when protests like this are covered in the media. What else can we do? The Kashmiris have our support, and they should know that the people of Pakistan stand with them.”
In addition to the protest, Imran Khan also authored an opinion piece in the New York Times on Friday. Khan wrote, “After I was elected prime minister of Pakistan last August, one of my foremost priorities was to work for lasting and just peace in South Asia… I wanted to normalize relations with India through trade and by settling the Kashmir dispute, the foremost impediment to the normalization of relations between us.” Khan suggests that peace and stability can be reached through talks between all stakeholders, especially Kashmiris, but that “dialogue can start only when India reverses its illegal annexation of Kashmir, ends the curfew and lockdown, and withdraws its troops to the barracks.” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has said the removal of Article 370 will allow investment and economic growth in the area, and that the communications blackout and restrictions on movement in Jammu and Kashmir were put in place for security reasons.
The conflict over Kashmir has been ongoing since 1947, with three wars being fought between Pakistan and India over the region. Among the reported violence following the communications blackout and revocation of Article 370, the “Kashmir hour” is an effective peaceful way for Pakistanis to express opposition and also bring attention to the issue without escalating the violence even further. To fully diffuse the situation, there is still a need for diplomacy between Pakistan, India, and Kashmir, but this protest could be a step in the right direction if it helps the international community step in to mediate the dialogue.
After India’s declaration of a lockdown on August 5, Pakistan requested that the UN Security Council meet to discuss Kashmir, a request that was granted with the support of China on August 16. Although there was a lack of action after the meeting, it was significant in that this was the first time the Security Council has made Kashmir a topic of discussion in more than 50 years. However, there was still a strong difference of opinion after the meeting, with Pakistan’s UN Ambassador, Maleeha Lodhi, making a statement that “The fact that this meeting took place is testimony to the fact that this is an internationally recognized dispute,” while India’s UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin said, “It’s entirely an internal matter for India… We don’t need international busybodies.”
There are fears that the resistance movement in Kashmir may develop into violence to fight the mass arrests and the communications shutdown. National security analyst Happymon Jacob told Al Jazeera that historically, “political missteps” have led to more violence in Kashmir, and that “what has happened now is a step further, New Delhi has not only stripped Kashmir of statehood but also made mainstream politicians irrelevant. These factors could lead to a spike in violence in months ahead.” As long as India is opposed to international intervention, traditional international mediation, which requires both parties to agree to participate, will not be possible. With the “Kashmir hour” protests, Pakistan is currently using peaceful strategies to address the conflict. The best thing the international community can do is to de-escalate tensions by helping both sides find ways to avoid using violent strategies. However, there should be action taken to ensure that the human rights of the people in Jammu and Kashmir are not being violated during the military lockdown.