Kashmir earthquake toll mounts as Pakistan’s PM warns of war with India

A woman sits next to her injured granddaughter who lies on a bed after the earthquake in Mirpur, in north-east Pakistan. CREDIT: AP. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.


MUZAFFARABAD, Sep 25, 2019, Reuters, AP. At least 24 people were killed and 450 injured in an earthquake that hit Pakistani Kashmir, local officials said on Wednesday, adding that rescue work was in full swing and an earlier panic was subsiding, reported The Sydney Morning Herald.

Tuesday’s powerful 5.8 magnitude earthquake levelled homes and shops and split open roads in an area between the towns of Jhelum and Mirpur to the north, which is in Pakistan’s portion of the disputed Hymalayan territory of Kashmir.

“The situation is slowly returning to normal, the level of panic is now less among the people, although an aftershock was felt at night,” said Sardar Gulfaraz Khan, a police deputy inspector general.

Most of the damage happened in villages where old houses collapsed, Khan said.

Many people from the area slept outdoors overnight and some were returning home on Wednesday morning to collect belongings and inspect damage.

Troops and other emergency responders carried out rescue operations through the night, with engineers starting repair work on a key roadway that was severely damaged, the Pakistan Army’s communications arm said. Three bridges were damaged.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a tweet from New York, offered condolences to families of the victims and said he had directed the government to quickly offer relief efforts and assess damage.

Kashmir has been in dispute between India and Pakistan since the two countries were carved out of British colonial India in 1947, and has been the cause of two wars between them.

The Prime Minister, in the United States for the United National General Assembly on Tuesday, warned of possible war between his country and India over what he called India’s brutal actions in disputed Kashmir.

Indian leader Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government imposed a sweeping military curfew in its disputed section of Kashmir since downgrading the region’s special semi-autonomous status on August 5. It cut off residents in the Muslim-majority region from virtually all communications.

“For 50 days, the people of Kashmir have been locked down by 900,000 soldiers,” Imran Khan said, describing mass arrests, non-functioning hospitals and “a total news blackout”.

“Eight million people in an open jail is unprecedented in this day and age. … The biggest worry is what happens once the curfew is lifted? We fear with 900,000 soldiers there, there will be a massacre,” Khan said.

“There’s a potential that two nuclear-armed countries will come face to face at some stage.”

Khan said he feared there would be a massacre in Kashmir when the curfew was lifted and urged the world to act quickly to prevent bloodshed or war.

Modi has defended the Kashmir changes as freeing the territory from separatism, and his supporters welcomed the move.

Meanwhile US President Donald Trump met with Modi in New York for the second time in three days.

Trump urged the two sides to resolve their differences even as he gushed over Modi, saying he was as popular as Elvis Presley after Modi received a rock-star welcome Sunday in Texas. He who was greeted in Houston by 50,000 cheering Indian Americans.

“Those people went crazy,” Trump said as he and Modi met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. “That was like Elvis.”

Asked to describe his chemistry with Modi, Trump said it’s “as good as it can get.”

“I have great respect, I have great admiration and I really like him, that’s another thing,” the President told reporters.

Imran Khan had a much different description for Modi: “racist.”

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