By Mehreen Zahra-Malik
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's media regulator has launched a crackdown on companies airing Indian television channels and content, officials said on Thursday, after an escalation of violence in the disputed Kashmir region between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
Tension between the old rivals has been high since an Indian security force crackdown on protests in Indian-controlled Kashmir began in July, following the killing of a young Muslim separatist leader by security forces.
Relations worsened in September when militants killed 18 soldiers in a raid on an Indian army base, an attack India blamed on Pakistan. Pakistan denies the accusations.
"Given the recent tensions between India and Pakistan, the public is demanding that Indian channels and sitcoms be completely banned," a spokesman for Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) said on Thursday.
Pakistani law only allows 86 minutes of Indian content to be aired by a channel daily, but entertainment channels and cable operators routinely flout the rules as Indian films and soap operas are so popular.
The sale of Indian direct-to-home service is also forbidden but common in Pakistan.
The authority said in a statement dated on Tuesday, it had given its chairman the authority to revoke or suspend the licence of any company that aired illegal Indian channels or Indian content "without providing show cause notice and without giving [channels] the opportunity to respond".
"After Oct. 15, action will be taken against all violators without discrimination," it said.
The announcement came a week after Pakistani cinemas owners said they had stopped screening Indian films in "solidarity" with the country's armed forces after India said it had carried out "surgical strikes" in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Pakistan has denied that any such strikes took place.
Pakistan was created as a home for the sub-continent's Muslims at the end of British colonial rule in 1947.
Though the partition was bloody, and the two countries have fought three wars since, two of them over mostly Muslim Kashmir, their people share numerous cultural links.
Both countries claim Kashmir in full, but govern separate parts.
On Thursday, Indian police said soldiers shot dead three suspected militants who tried to raid an army base in the north of Indian-ruled Kashmir.
The attack came as India and Pakistan exchanged more gunfire across the de facto border in Kashmir, despite a 2003 ceasefire, setting off panic among residents in border areas.
(Reporting by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Robert Birsel)