Refugees in Pakistan fearful after India abolishes Kashmir autonomy

Refugees in Pakistani-held Kashmir voiced fears for relatives still on the other side of the disputed Himalayan border Monday after India abolished the Muslim-majority region's special autonomy, raising fears of fresh violence.

Many of the roughly 250 people in the Manak Paiyan refugee camp near Muzaffarabad, the largest city in Pakistani-held Kashmir, fled fighting in the 1990s but still have family on the other side of the Line of Control, the de facto border slicing through the heavily militarised region.

For decades they have communicated mainly by telephone, and more recently with video and WhatsApp calls.

But India cut off telecommunications and imposed a security lockdown on the territory late Sunday, ahead of the decision to strip Kashmir of the special status it has held for seven decades.

The move is set to exacerbate the rebellion in Kashmir, and to deepen the long-running animosity with nuclear rival Pakistan, which has fought two out of three wars with India over the territory.

"I don't know what will happen... I am worried about my family. I have no information about them," 32-year-old Mohammad Altaf told AFP.

"I am very upset because of it," he said.

Khadija Bibi said her father had passed away just two days ago but she has been unable to speak with her sisters or other relatives to share their grief.

"Roads are closed and we have no means to go there. Internet, phone, everything is closed," she said.

"We will die here and they will die there without seeing each other if Kashmir is not liberated".

Usman Hashim, who left his entire family behind when he fled in 1992, said he was afraid that "anything" could happen to them.

"The world should take notice... they should save the lives of human beings. Freedom comes later," he said.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947.

For three decades the Indian-administered part has been in the grip of an insurgency that has left tens of thousands dead.

Armed Kashmiri rebels and many residents have fought for the region's independence or to join neighbour Pakistan.

There are roughly 38,000 refugees from Indian-held Kashmir in camps on the Pakistani side, authorities say.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu-nationalist party rushed through a presidential decree to scrap from the constitution the Indian-ruled part of the disputed territory's special status.

It also moved a bill proposing the Indian-administered part of Kashmir be divided into two regions directly ruled by New Delhi.

Bibi's brother Mohammad Yaseen Rana called the moves a "most cruel step" and said: "We will never accept this".


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