Pakistani PM promises Kashmiris ‘right to independence’ in future referendum

Imran Khan also expressed readiness to speak with his Indian counterpart

FILE PHOTO: Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during a joint news conference with Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (not pictured) in Putrajaya, Malaysia, February 4, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng/File Photo

Pakistan will allow people in the Pakistan-administered section of divided Kashmir to decide whether they wanted to join Pakistan or prefer to remain independent in a future referendum on the disputed Himalayan region, the prime minister said Friday.

Imran Khan spoke at a rally in the town of Kotli in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir as the country marked the annual Day of Solidarity with Kashmir.

“God willing, Pakistan will give the right to Kashmiri people to decide whether they want to remain independent or become part of Pakistan,” Khan said.

epa08988771 Kashmiris hold Pakistani and Pakistan administered Kashmir's flags during protest to show solidarity with Kashmiris living in the Indian administered part, on Kashmir Solidarity Day, in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani administered Kashmir, 05 February 2021. Demonstrators demanded an end to Indian rule in the region and a settlement of the dispute according to wishes of Kashmiris and UN resolutions. Kashmir, a Muslim majority Himalayan territory divided between the two nuclear armed neighbors, has triggered two wars between them since their independence from Britain in 1947.  EPA/AMIRUDDIN MUGHAL

Khan expressed readiness to talk to his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, if he reverses steps taken by New Delhi in 2019 by changing the special status of Kashmir, which is split between Pakistan and India and claimed by both in its entirety.

At the time, relation between Pakistan and India were strained over New Delhi’s move to divide the Indian-administered part of the Muslim-majority Kashmir into two federally governed territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh — touching off anger on both sides of the frontier.

Khan assailed India’s Hindu nationalist government over the action, calling India a state sponsor of hatred and prejudice against Islam. Since then, Pakistan has refused to hold talks with India, saying Modi must first restore the original status of the Indian-administered Kashmir.

Earlier, Shibli Faraz, Pakistan’s information minister, said that Islamabad would resume talks with India when Modi’s government agrees to a Kashmir referendum in accordance with UN resolutions.

In southwestern Pakistan, at least 16 people were wounded when an unknown assailant threw a hand grenade at people standing along a road minutes after a pro-Kashmir rally passed through the area, local police chief Wazir Ali Marri said. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place in the district of Sibi in Baluchistan province. The restive province has been the scene of a low-level insurgency by separatists demanding a greater share of local natural gas and mineral resources.

Also in Baluchistan, later Friday, a bomb went off near a government office in the city of Quetta, the provincial capital, killing at least two people and wounding five, police said. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, which took place near the office of the deputy commissioner.

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