Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh has told Pakistan to hold a referendum in its own soil to see if its citizens want to be a part of India instead of calling for a popular vote in the heavily disputed region of Kashmir. Singh reiterated that Kashmir will remain an integrated part of India and New Delhi would resist any adverse effort from Islamabad.

Speaking at a political rally in the poll-bound state of Uttarakhand, Singh said: "Stop these demands of a referendum on Kashmir...We want to demand a referendum on Pakistan. [The referendum] is for whether Pakistanis want to remain in their country or merge with India."

The top Indian leader, a key political figure in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration, has also said there is a possibility that more "surgical strikes" could be carried out in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir if needed to eliminate extremist positions. Indian forces entered the Pakistan-controlled in September 2016 conducted what New Delhi called "surgical strikes" and destroyed multiple Islamist strongholds. The episode has worsened the India-Pakistan relations, which have been at one the lowest points in recent times.

Blaming Pakistan for the deteriorating ties, Singh said: "I want to tell this to Pakistan that India always wants to establish peaceful relations but it is only Islamabad which has tried to disrupt the relationship. They need to stop these terrorists and those who are asking for a referendum on Kashmir.

"We want peaceful relations with Pakistan but time and again Pakistan is responsible for notorious activities. Through surgical strikes, we have shown the world that even we can take strong action. India is a peace loving country but it is no longer a soft nation."

The two nuclear-armed arch-rivals have been witnessing numerous cross-border ceasefire violations in the past few months especially in the backdrop of the contentious region of Kashmir – over which the neighbours have fought three major wars.