By Syed Raza Hassan
KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan will ban all Indian content on television and radio channels from Friday, its media regulator said, stepping up media tit-for-tat bans that followed a spike in tension between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
The blanket ban drew immediate criticism from viewers and cable operators in Pakistan, a nation of 190 million people where Indian soap operas and Bollywood's elaborate song-and-dance sequences are wildly popular.
Despite being bitter foes, Pakistan and India have deep cultural similarities dating back to before their separation at the end of British colonial rule in 1947.
Tension 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 attacked an army base in Indian-controlled Kashmir and killed 18 soldiers, a raid India blamed on Pakistan.
Islamabad denied involvement, but the diplomatic fallout and New Delhi's efforts to isolate Pakistan internationally, prompted calls in India for a ban on Pakistani actors and actresses in the country's giant Bollywood film industry.
Pakistani cinemas responded by banning Bollywood films and as the rhetoric against Pakistani actors in Bollywood surged, Pakistan responded by enforcing bans on Indian channels.
The complete ban will start on Friday at 3 p.m. (1000 GMT), Muhammad Tahir, spokesman for the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), told Reuters.
The measure goes further than the regulator's crackdown on India media announced this month, which saw some channels such as Star World and Star Sports taken down as PEMRA vowed to enforce an existing law that limits channels to air Indian content for just 86 minutes each day.
The law was often flouted by entertainment channels and cable operators airing Indian films and soap operas.
The sale of Indian direct-to-home service is also forbidden, yet common, in Pakistan.
The removal of the Indian channels has not gone down well.
"My wife is in grief ever since the ban has come into effect," said Saleem Ahmed, 55, an art gallery curator in Karachi.
Many women in conservative Pakistan face restrictions on how they can act or what they can wear in public, while in rural areas many women spend much of their time cooped-up inside their homes.
"What entertainment do we have apart from watching Indian dramas?" asked Rubina Jan Muhammad, a 30-year-old maid.
"We cannot go out of our homes, our males family members don't like us going out apart from for work."
Pakistani programs have in recent years also grown in popularity across the border, where Indian Hindi-language speakers can understand Urdu, and vice versa.
Pakistani cable operators fear the severing of cultural ties between the neighbors will hurt profits as some viewers have already threatened to stop paying subscriptions.
"The public are yelling at us," said Khalid Arain, chairman of the Cable Operators Association of Pakistan. "Subscribers are not concerned about the origin of content."
Arain's association estimates there are up to 4 million direct-to-home satellite devices in Pakistani homes receiving signals directly from India.
"How can they be eliminated?,” he asked?
PEMRA spokesman Tahir said the latest measure would override a 2006 decree by former President Pervez Musharraf that allowed Indian TV channels to proliferate.
Pakistan was created as a home for the subcontinent's Muslims at the end of British colonial rule in 1947.
Though the partition was bloody, and the neighbors have fought three wars since, two of them over mostly Muslim Kashmir, their people share numerous cultural links.
(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)