ISLAMABAD: A motorcyclist rides past a billboard displaying a picture of Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan along a street in Islamabad. - AFP

MUZAFFARABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan yesterday branded India an "oppressor and aggressor" a year after New Delhi imposed direct rule on Indian-administered Kashmir. Protests were planned across Pakistan to mark the anniversary of New Delhi stripping Muslim-majority Indian Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status, a move that outraged Islamabad. Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan territory, has been split since 1947 between India and Pakistan, both of which claim it in full and have fought wars over it.

"India stands exposed before the world, yet again, as an oppressor and aggressor," Khan said in a statement. "Its so-called secular and democratic credentials stand fully discredited," he added, calling India's action last year a "crime against humanity". Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government had promised the move would bring peace and prosperity to Indian Kashmir after three decades of violence sparked by an anti-India uprising.

Pakistan, however, has alleged it is a violation of the rights of Kashmiri people. Khan accused India of trying to turn Kashmir's Muslim majority into a minority by ending restrictions on outsiders buying up property "in blatant violation of… UN Security Council Resolutions and international laws". The change in rules has sparked fears that the Modi government is pursuing an Israel-style "settler" project. A referendum in Kashmir mandated by a UN resolution in 1948 has never taken place.

Police were enforcing tight restrictions in Indian-administered Kashmir yesterday, where religious and political groups had called on residents to observe a "black day". In the Pakistani capital Islamabad, a one-minute silence was held, along with a rally led by President Arif Alvi. "India has learned from Israel how to change the demography (of Kashmir)," Alvi told the rally Hundreds of billboards and banners displayed graphic images purportedly of human rights violations by Indian authorities in Kashmir.

Khan led a rally through Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered-Kashmir, where a few thousand people had gathered. He was due to address the region's legislative assembly. Dozens of rallies are expected in other major Pakistani cities too. On Tuesday, Pakistan released a new official map showing all of Kashmir as its territory. Tensions spiralled between the nuclear-armed neighbors after India revoked Kashmir's autonomy and imposed movement and communications restrictions to quell unrest. Pakistan has repeatedly likened Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Adolf Hitler and called for international intervention.

Militants attack Kashmir
Militants attacked Indian security forces with a grenade and gunfire in Kashmir yesterday, defying a strict security lockdown on the first anniversary of the government's scrapping of the disputed Himalayan region's autonomy. There were no immediate reports of casualties, police said. Authorities blanketed Kashmir with troops, who laid out barbed wire and set up road blacks to prevent demonstrations a year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government stripped India's only Muslim-majority state of its special rights.

The government said the change was necessary to develop the strife-torn region and integrate it with the rest of India but it infuriated many Kashmiris and neighboring Pakistan. Some critics saw it as part of a pattern by the Hindu-nationalist government aimed at sidelining Muslims. The government denies that. Kashmir is claimed in full by India and Pakistan, which have gone to war twice over it, and both rule parts of it. Militants have been fighting Indian rule in its part of Kashmir since 1989 in a conflict that has killed at least 50,000 dead, according to official figures.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was due to travel to the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir to mark the anniversary later on. He reiterated a long-standing Pakistani appeal for international intervention to help resolve the dispute over Kashmir between the nuclear-armed neighbors that has bedeviled their ties since the end of British colonial rule in 1947. "It is imperative that the international community steps in immediately and backs its words of condemnation with practical steps that will force India to reverse its present course against the Kashmiri people," he said in a statement.

India has ruled out any outside mediation over Kashmir. In Srinagar, a handful of members of Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gathered at their headquarters to unfurl an Indian flag to mark the occasion. The party had long campaigned for ending Kashmir's special status. Party spokesman Altaf Thakur said similar celebrations took place in all district headquarters in the territory. "It is an important and historic day for our party," Thakur said.- Agencies