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- Dubai 04:00 05:25 12:19 15:41 19:08 20:33
Pakistan's military "firmly stands" by Kashmiris, the powerful army chief said Tuesday, a day after India stripped the disputed region of its special autonomy in a move set to deepen animosity between the nuclear arch-rivals.
The army's top commanders met in the garrison city of Rawalpindi to discuss the move by India, which is also set to exacerbate the long-running bloody rebellion in Kashmir.
"Pakistan Army firmly stands by the Kashmiris in their just struggle to the very end. We are prepared and shall go to any extent to fulfil our obligations in this regard," General Qamar Javed Bajwa said, in a tweet sent by a military spokesman after the meeting.
Spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said commanders "fully supported" the civilian government's rejection of India's move.
"Pakistan never recognised the sham Indian efforts to legalise its occupation" of the disputed mountainous region, he added.
On Tuesday, an estimated 500 people demonstrated in Muzaffarabad, the largest city in Pakistani-held Kashmir, with more protests expected in major cities across the country.
Pakistani lawmakers also began a joint-session of parliament to discuss a possible response to Delhi's move.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu-nationalist party on Monday rushed through a presidential decree to scrap the special status granted to the Indian-ruled part of Kashmir from India's constitution.
It also moved a bill proposing the Indian-administered part of the Himalayan region be divided into two regions directly ruled by New Delhi.
The breathtaking Himalayan region of Kashmir has been disputed by India and Pakistan since independence in 1947. They have fought two of their three wars over the former principality.
Earlier this year they came close to war yet again, after a militant attack in Indian-held Kashmir in February was claimed by a group based in Pakistan, igniting tit-for-tat air strikes.
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 Muslim majority region's independence or to join neighbour Pakistan.
Ahead of the announcements, tens of thousands of extra Indian troops were deployed in the territory, and a security lockdown was imposed overnight Sunday. All telecommunications have been cut there since.
Editorials and social media in Pakistan were buzzing Tuesday over Modi's decision, with the English daily Dawn running a large headline on its front page reading: "New Delhi sheds fig leaf, robs held Kashmir of special status".
Pakistan condemns 'illegal' India step in Kashmir
Pakistan on Monday condemned India's move to abolish Kashmir's special status as "illegal", insisting it was an internationally recognised disputed territory.
"No unilateral step by the Government of India can change this disputed status... As the party to this international dispute, Pakistan will exercise all possible options to counter the illegal steps," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
It added that the move, which Islamabad "strongly rejects and condemns", will not "ever be acceptable to the people of Jammu & Kashmir and Pakistan".
"Pakistan reaffirms its abiding commitment to the Kashmir cause and its political, diplomatic and moral support to the people of Occupied Jammu and Kashmir for realization of their inalienable right to self-determination," the statement said.
India's decision to strip Kashmir of the special autonomy it has enjoyed for seven decades has also prompted condemnation on Pakistani Twitter, where at one point the top six trending hashtags all related to the move.
Pakistan's human rights minister Shireen Mazari branded the step "illegal annexation" in a tweet.
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