India: Narendra Modi lauds 'path-breaking' Kashmir move

Invoking India's own independence in his annual speech on Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised his decision to revoke Kashmir's semiautonomy.

In a live Independence Day address from New Delhi's Red Fort, Modi called the region's previous status "unjust" for women, children and tribal communities.

Earlier in August, Modi ordered the state of Jammu and Kashmir split into two, and his forces have held the region under lockdown and a communications blackout ever since.

Modi said his "fresh thinking" would help ensure harmony in South Asia, where India and Pakistan have fought over control of Kashmir ever since their own partitioning in 1947. "We do not believe in creating problems or prolonging them," Modi told the nation.

The changes to Kashmir would be key to India's future development, Modi pledged. His aim is to make India a $5 trillion economy within five years.

"Let us never see wealth creators with suspicion," Modi said. "Only when wealth is created, wealth will be distributed. Wealth creation is absolutely essential. Those who create wealth are India's wealth and we respect them."

Read more: Kashmir residents stage shutdown after suicide bombing

'We will fight'

Modi also said India would establish the post of chief of defense staff in order to coordinate the military's air, ground and naval branches. The prime minister's handpicked chief of defense staff would become the country's fourth four-star general, joining the leaders of the army, navy and air force. "This is going to make the armed forces even more effective," Modi said.

The speech came a day after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan accused India of preparing for military conflict. Khan said India would target Azad Kashmir, the Pakistan-controlled part of the disputed region.

Read more: Kashmir crisis mars independence celebrations in Pakistan and India

The prime minister had visited Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-administered Kashmir on Wednesday to mark his own nation's independence. In a televised speech, he said the military was "fully prepared to respond" to any aggression. "We have decided that if India commits any type of violation, we will fight till the end," Khan said.

mkg/rt (Reuters, AFP)

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