Pakistani Cable Stations Ordered Cut Off Air in India-Controlled Portion of Kashmir

Local authorities in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir have ordered most Pakistani cable stations off the air in the territory, cable operators said Thursday.

The popular Pakistani channels are the only source of Islamic programming in Indian-controlled Kashmir, a Muslim-majority area where insurgents have been fighting for almost two decades for independence from predominantly Hindu India or union with mostly Muslim Pakistan, which controls the other part of the Himalayan territory.

Both countries claim all of Kashmir and have fought two wars over it.

Indian cable operators in Kashmir have carried several Pakistani channels including state-run PTV for several years. It was not clear why local officials ordered the cuts now.

India's state government in Kashmir sent cable operators an order Wednesday directing them to stop airing most of the channels because they have not been approved by India's federal Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, said Irfan Ahmed, who runs the main cable operation in Indian Kashmir's main city of Srinagar.

Ahmed said that it was the first time he received a written government order about the Pakistani channels, and that he had complied. Other cable operators also stopped airing channels.

Raveen Singh, a spokesman for the information ministry in New Delhi, said that there was not a blanket ban on Pakistani TV channels but that all of them had to be cleared by the ministry. "It's up to local authorities to enforce the rules," he said.

Cable operators said they were still broadcasting one Pakistani channel, QTV, which has Islamic-oriented programs on topics like mysticism, ethics and dialogue between different schools of thought in Islam. They said the channel was not mentioned in the order.

The cuts angered many Kashmiris, who said they relied on Pakistani channels for reliable news about their homeland.

"Pakistani TV provides comprehensive coverage of what is going on in Kashmir, while Indian media are generally biased," said college student Faisal Ahmed.

Others said they related to the Pakistani channels' entertainment programming far more than the Indian channels' song-and-dance, Bollywood-type shows.

"These channels are the link to our cultural and religious moorings," said school teacher Abdul Hamid.

It was not the first time Kashmir cable operators have had their content challenged.

Last year they dropped four foreign television channels after Islamic militants accused them of showing "obscene" content.

India and neighboring Pakistan fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, but relations have improved since they launched a peace process in 2004.