By Aamir Latif
KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – Thousands marched in Muzaffarabad — the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir — on Monday to protest against India's withdrawal of special rights to the Indian administered part of Jammu and Kashmir through a presidential decree last week.
The rally coincided with the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, celebrated across Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nepal.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Opposition Leader and Head of Pakistan People’s Party, (PPP), Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and Zafar Iqbal Jhagda, leader of jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), and others joined the rally, soon after Eid prayer.
They offered Eid prayer in Muzaffarabad to express solidarity, with the resistance movement in Jammu and Kashmir.
Footage aired on regional broadcaster Geo News showed thousands marching on the city roads. Carrying banners, plastered with pictures of pro-freedom leaders of Indian-administered Kashmir Syed Ali Gilani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, and Yasin Malik, the rally culminated at the city's Kashmir square, where Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir, Raja Farooq Haider and Qureshi addressed the gathering.
"Kashmir freedom struggle will continue, despite Indian atrocities. The world has seen India’s real face, “Qureshi said in his address, according to the state-run Pakistan Television.
“We are on Kashmir. It runs in our blood. There is no difference on this issue (in Pakistan) “, he said to cheering crowds, adding "Pakistan will continue to support the struggle of Kashmiri.
Apart from Muzaffarabad, rallies were also held in others areas, including Bagh, Kotli, Rawlakot, and Mirpur, PTV reported.
In Pakistan, religious scholars during their Eid sermons urged the world community to note the situation in Indian administered Kashmir and urged India to conduct a UN-guaranteed plebiscite in the region.
Pakistan has already announced to observe its Independence Day, as Solidarity Day with Kashmir on Aug 14.
Tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi have further escalated, following India's move to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir — which had allowed Jammu and Kashmir Assembly to enact laws and prevented outsiders to settle and own land in the territory.
Kashmiri leaders fear that the step amounted to changing demographic character of the region.
In a series of punitive measures, Pakistan has downgraded diplomatic relations with India and also suspended trade and expelled the Indian envoy.
The Himalayan region is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full.
Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars — in 1948, 1965 and 1971 — two of them over Kashmir.
According to several human rights organizations, thousands of people have been reportedly killed in the conflict in the region since 1989.