–Authorities block Muzzafarabad-Srinagar highway with containers, barbed wires to stop marcher from reaching LoC
–JKLF spokesperson says they don’t want confrontation with authorities as it would serve India’s interests
MUZAFFARABAD: Thousands of Kashmiris on the call of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) on Sunday marched towards the Line of Control (LoC) — the de facto border between Pakistan and India — but were stopped by the authorities by placing containers, barbed wires, electricity poles and mounds of earth on the road.
The rally billed as “Freedom March” is being held to protest New Delhi’s move to scrap the special status of Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) and the imposition of curfew in the territory since Aug 5.
The march has been organised by JKLF, a group led by pro-independence leader Yasin Malik, who is currently in detention in occupied Kashmir.
The marchers who gathered in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK) planned to hold a sit-in near the LoC and were on their way to Chakothi.
However, when they reached Jiskool on Sunday, the local administration blocked the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar highway to stop them from moving ahead.
Speaking on the matter, JKLF Spokesperson Muhammad Rafiq Dar said they were holding a peaceful demonstration to express solidarity with innocent Kashmiris who are suffering at the hands of barbaric Indian forces.
“We want to draw the attention of the international community towards the urgent need of an immediate and peaceful settlement to the longstanding Kashmir dispute,” he said, adding that they did not intend to have any kind of confrontation with the authorities because any violent situation would only serve India’s interests.
“We have to save our energies for confrontation with India,” he added.
He also urged the authorities to remove the blockades so that the marchers could reach their destination — Chakothi, a village 3 kilometres before LoC which is overlooked by Indian forces atop the mountains on the other side of the de-facto border.
He said that by sunset, when the crowd would be thinned out, they would stage a sit-in half a kilometre before the containers. “We will hold consultations for our future course of action,” he added.
Meanwhile, Divisional Commissioner Chaudhry Imtiaz, Deputy Inspector General Police Sardar Ilyas Khan, Jhelum Valley Deputy Commissioner Imran Shaheen and Superintendent Police Arshad Naqvi were present on the other side of the containers. They had also invited the leaders of the march for talks.
Speaking to a local news outlet, DC Imtiaz said that they had informed the organisers of the march about a ‘serious threat’ of Indian shelling because the Indian forces would not only target the marchers but would harm the civilian population as well.
He said that they could not allow the marchers to go beyond Jiskool because there is a firing range beyond this point. “Our primary responsibility is to protect the lives of the marchers,” he added.
The participants of the march started their journey from Garhi Dupatta, a small town in Muzaffarabad, on Saturday morning and were shortly joined by another caravan from Bagh. Nearly two hours later, they reached Hattian Bala where they were received a warm welcome from the locals.
Continuing their march on foot, it took the participants another two hours to reach Chinari, which is about 11 kilometres away from the LoC. They stopped there for refreshments and prayers. According to the videos being shared on social media, the participants were showered with rose petals and offered food by the locals.
Later, they resumed their journey and were stopped by authorities at Jiskool, a place nearly two kilometres ahead of Chinari.
A day earlier, Prime Minister Imran Khan had said that anyone crossing the LoC from AJK to provide “humanitarian aid or support for the Kashmiri struggle against aggression will play into the hands of the Indian narrative”.
In a post on Twitter, the prime minister stressed that he understood the anguish of the people of Kashmir who were seeing their brethren across the LoC struggle to deal with an inhumane Indian curfew imposed on them since two months.
“I understand the anguish of the Kashmiris in AJK seeing their fellow Kashmiris in IOK under an inhumane curfew for over 2 months. But anyone crossing the LoC from AJK to provide humanitarian aid or support for Kashmiri struggle will play into the hands of the Indian narrative,” he wrote on Twitter.
On September 12, dozens of protesters were arrested in AJK after they attempted to reach the LoC.
The protesters clashed with the police near the village of Tatrinote, about 80km south of Muzaffarabad and close to the LoC. Later, the protesters held a sit-in at the site of the clashes.
District Police Chief Tahir Mahmood Qureshi had said that the protesters were not arrested for their political views but they had been arrested for acting illegally.