NEW YORK: Billboards in New York’s iconic Times Square lit up in solidarity with Kashmiris on Tuesday as the Indian siege of the occupied valley was entering its second year.

“Kashmiris Lives Matter,” said a sign, written in white letters with a red line, against a black background.

As passersby in one of the world’s busiest squares looked on, another sign lit up: “Kashmir Siege Day,” it declared.

It also showed two hands raised in protest, symbolizing the determination of the Kashmiri people to continue their struggle. ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

“Signs at Times Square remind the international community of one full year of forced disappearances, torture, and a siege that has been intensified on the pretext of Covid-19,” said Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Asad Khan.

On Aug 5, 2019, the Modi government illegally annexed Kashmir, divided the disputed region into three parts, and launched a demographic apartheid that aims to turn Kashmir’s Muslim majority into a minority.

The display at Times Square started on Monday night and will continue for a week. On Aug 5, hundreds of Kashmiris plan to protest Indian atrocities at Times Square while a larger crowd gathers outside the UN headquarters, about two miles down the road, to draw the world’s attention to the plight of eight million Kashmiris.

Indian Muslims are holding similar protests at the two places, as India is using the first anniversary of its illegal annexation also to celebrate the destruction of the Babri mosque.

“A year after what happened on Aug 5, 2019, most of our fears and warnings to the international community have proven to be right,” said Ambassador Khan while addressing a seminar in New York.

“Motivated by BJP’s Hindu supremacist agenda, India aims to shift the demographics of Kashmir and is using the bogey of terrorism to divert the world’s attention,” he added.

“This should open everyone’s eyes. The Indian government is targeting all minorities, not just Muslims.”

Former foreign secretary Salman Bashir highlighted the importance of promoting awareness, particularly in the United States. He described the situation in occupied Kashmir as akin to genocide and emphasised the need to inform the world about how Indian occupation forces were targeting Kashmir civilians.

“Kashmir is a flashpoint. Kashmir is a hotspot and the Kashmir dispute is a threat to peace, security and stability in South Asia,” he said.

Another speaker, Aijaz Haider, underlined the importance of the narrative, telling the participants to inform the world how a dispute between two nuclear powers was a consistent threat to peace.

Asif Rahman, a Pakistani physician, overviewed the history of Indian occupation and explained how to highlight this issue in the US Congress. Pakistani physicians have lobbied extensively in the US House and the Senate, and this lobbying by them and other Pakistani-American groups, led to two consecutive hearings on Kashmir.

So far, Congress is the only legislative body to do so. US lawmakers also have issued more than 70 statements, condemning the Indian occupation and human rights violations.

Ayub Thakur, another speaker, inventoried the situation in the occupied valley after Aug 5, 2019, focusing on various repressive measures India has taken since then.

“Pakistan will continue to extend political, diplomatic and moral support to the Kashmir cause,” Ambassador Khan assured the Kashmiris.