Pakistan's prime minister on Friday repeated his warning of a potential nuclear war with neighboring India following a simmering crisis in disputed Jammu and Kashmir.
Imran Khan's warning that echoed during his much-anticipated address to the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York, came hours after the U.S. pressed New Delhi to lift weeks-long clampdown in the disputed valley.
Tension between the two South Asian nuclear neighbors mounted in recent weeks after the Indian government scrapped the special status of Jammu and Kashmir on Aug. 5.
Since then, the region has been under a near-complete lockdown as the Indian government has blocked communication access and imposed restrictions on movement to thwart any protests in the region.
With hundreds of Kashmiris and Sikhs protesting outside the UN headquarters in New York against India's controversial move, Khan's speech focused on highlighting human rights violations in the Muslim-majority region and calling on the international community to "intervene" to save the world from a possible nuclear war between the two longtime rivals.
"Has the world thought what would happen when the curfew is lifted? There will be a reaction [from Kashmiris], and India will blame us for that", Khan said adding " This [blame game] will bring the two nuclear countries face-to-face", Khan said at the UNGA podium, attired in blue salwar-kameez (national dress) and a matching coat.
"When a nuclear war starts, it will have consequences for the whole world," Khan said underlining that it was "not a threat, it's fear".
Khan slammed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "cruel" policies in Kashmir and said "if Pakistan is left without a choice," it will "fight until the end."
"If a conventional war starts between two nuclear countries, what will a country several times smaller than its neighbor do? We will fight till death", he went on to say.
"We hope for the best but we are ready for the worst".
"When a nuclear-armed country fight to the end it will have consequences far beyond the borders. It will have consequences for the world."
Demanding the lifting of weeks-long "curfew" and release of "thousands of detainees", Khan urged the UN to live up to its resolutions and responsibilities on Kashmir and said that it is a "test for the UN" to restore its credibility by giving the right of self-determination to Kashmiris.
"This is the time to take action. The number one action must be [that] India must lift its curfew lasting for 55 days. It must release all the detainees including 13000 children it has recently detained", he said.
Several rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have repeatedly called on India to lift restrictions and release political detainees.
India said that 93% of the restrictions have been eased in the conflict-ridden region, a claim that Anadolu Agency could not independently verify.
- 'Bloodbath' in Kashmir
Fearing that there would be a "bloodbath" in the disputed valley once the restrictions are lifted, Khan urged the UN to immediately act to stop that.
"When the curfew is lifted and millions of people face 900,000 Indian security forces, there will be a bloodbath," Khan said, emphasizing that 8 million Kashmiris are "locked in as animals.”
"Do you think the Kashmiris will quietly accept status quo?" when their rights and special status are revoked, Khan asked Modi.
He dismissed the Indian government's claim that the new move would bring prosperity and development in Jammu and Kashmir, noting the people in the region will face more oppression. "They [Kashmiris] will out to streets and the troops will shoot them. They [the troops] have already used pellet guns against them [Kashmiris] massively... And so, Kashmiris will be further radicalized."
"There will be another Pulwama. And they [India] will blame us," he said referring to a suicide attack on an Indian army convoy in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir, which killed 44 Indian troops in February this year.
The cricketer-turned-premier also dismissed New Delhi's accusations that Pakistan has sent hundreds of terrorists to the Indian-administered Kashmir. "Why would we send 500 terrorists when there are 900,000 [Indian] troops there? Why would we give an excuse to the Indian government to go ahead its terrorism propaganda against Pakistan".
He warned the "ultra-nationalist agenda" of the Indian government threatens peace in the region, citing the death of Mahatma Gandhi at the hands of the same "ideology of hate."
The Pakistani premier said the Kashmir policy of India will radicalize Muslims across the world.
"1.3 billion Muslims in all over the world are also watching this that Kashmiris are being targeted because of their religion." he said pointing out that along with Kashmiris, millions of Muslims in India and across the world "will be radicalized."
From 1954 until Aug. 5, 2019, Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed a special status under the Indian constitution which allowed it to enact its own laws. The provisions also protected the region's citizenship law, which barred outsiders from settling in and owning land in the territory.
India and Pakistan hold Kashmir in parts and claim it in full. China also controls part of the contested region, but it is India and Pakistan who have fought two wars over Kashmir.
Khan also touched upon climate change and money laundering issues urging the world powers to play their due role to tackle them.
Talking about the growing trend of global Islamophobia, the Pakistani leader noted that the phenomenon had risen after 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. and had created division among societies.
"No religion preaches terrorism," Khan said and warned against associating Islam with terrorism or extremism.
"The basis of all religions is compassion and justice which differentiates us from the animal kingdom."
Also, he noted, in some western countries, Hijab was being equated with weapons.
"All this is happening because of Islamophobia. We must address this issue. I am sad to say that Muslims leaders have not addressed this issue properly", he thought.
"This 'radical Islamic terrorism' [term] used by [some Western] leaders has caused Islamophobia and has caused pain for Muslims."
By Vakkas Dogantekin in Ankara and Aamir Latif in Karachi