Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif asked his diplomats on Wednesday to tell the world that Kashmir was “not an internal matter” of India, a remark aimed at needling New Delhi on a day home minister Rajnath Singh reached Islamabad for a Saarc meet.
Prime Minister Sharif said at his foreign ministry’s conference for envoys that Kashmir was witnessing a new wave of freedom movement, which is “running into the bloods of third generation of Kashmiri people, and the world has itself seen its intensity in the wake of July 8”.
He was referring to unrest in Kashmir following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
“They have lost eyesight due to bullets, but the desire for freedom is guiding them to the destination,” Sharif said. “Resolution of the lingering dispute in accordance with UN resolutions and aspirations of the Kashmiri people is the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy.”
The Pakistani premier, who faces fresh elections in two years, has been ratcheting up Wani’s death to address his core constituency that wants the whole of Kashmir to be part of Pakistan, or at least to be an independent country.
His comments have further strained uneasy ties the two neighbours share, and haven’t helped quell vigorous anti-India rants of religious and extremist groups, including Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Saeed, which have opposed home minister Singh’s visit to Islamabad.
Singh arrived in the afternoon to attend the Saarc home ministers’ meet, the first high-level Indian official to come to Pakistan since December 2015, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to Lahore to meet Sharif.
Singh will not hold any meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, or any other high-ranking official because of the public outrage, sources said.
Several political and religious organisations held protests in Islamabad, Rawalpindini and Azad Kashmir — the name for Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir, against his arrival.
At a protest in Islamabad, Hizbul Mujahidin leader Pir Salahudin said the Pakistani public would never forget the criminal ignorance of the Sharif government, which welcomed Singh at a time when Indian forces are targeting Kashmiris.
(With inputs from agencies)