Pakistan on Thursday suspended a train service to India amid escalating tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, after New Delhi scrapped special status of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
Pakistan's Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed told reporters in capital Islamabad that Samjhautha Express will remain suspended as a reaction to India's "irresponsible" move.
However, India denied that the bi-weekly train had been cancelled.
"We have told them [Pakistan] that the situation on this side is perfectly normal. [...] So to say that the train has been cancelled is not right," Deepak Kumar, a spokesman of the Indian Railways, told broadcaster Times Now.
The train links Pakistan's northeastern Lahore city with the Indian capital New Delhi through the Wagah border crossing.
The move came a day after Islamabad announced to downgrade its diplomatic ties with New Delhi and expelled the Indian high commissioner.
Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed special provisions to enact its own laws. The provision also protected its citizenship law that disallowed outsiders to settle and own land in the territory to protect the demographic character of the region.
By revoking this law on Monday, the Indian government has spurred fears in the Muslim-majority region that its demography will be tampered with.
Thar Express, another train service, which connects Pakistan's Khokhrapar town and India’s Jodhpur city is also likely to be suspended, said a Pakistan Railways official who asked not to be named as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
- People to suffer
Tauseef Ahmed Khan, a Karachi-based political analyst, termed the move “unwise” noting that families split across the border will suffer.
“The two sides should reconsider their latest moves, and come to the negotiations to resolve the disputes," he said.
Pakistan’s former Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad Khan said that Islamabad’s move reflected its deep anger.
“Pakistan was left with no other option. People are demanding more actions,” said Khan.
An Indian political analyst, Manoj Kumar said: "This train is the only link between people of India and Pakistan. Whenever there is some tension between both the countries, it becomes the first casualty. It was discontinued a number of times earlier also. But both countries should avoid taking such decisions. It is the only transport link for families on both sides of the border."
Jammu and Kashmir, a Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full.
Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars -- in 1948, 1965 and 1971 -- two of them over Kashmir.
Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.
According to several human rights organizations, thousands of people have reportedly been killed in the conflict in the region since 1989.
- Sikh friendship corridor
In a related move, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the country will stick to its commitment of opening a key border crossing, Kartarpur, with India in November.
“This has been decided that Samjautha Express will no longer operate. But we still stick to our commitment about [opening of] Kartarpur border because we do not want to cut off people to people contact,” Qureshi told reporters in Islamabad.
Islamabad and New Delhi, late last year, had agreed to open the crossing for Sikh pilgrims, who will visit one of their holiest religious temples near Lahore city.
Critics view this as Pakistan's move to cosy up to the Sikh community of India, some members of which have been running the separatist Khalistan Movement since the 80s, seeking a separate homeland for themselves./aa