Mon, 18 Nov 2019

Kashmir Remains Tense Three Months After India Tightens Control

Voice of America
09 Nov 2019, 10:05 GMT+10

Three months after India's central government abruptly stripped Indian-administered Kashmir of its autonomy, cut off internet service and censored media coverage of the situation, isolated reports from the northern territory indicate residents say the situation remains tense with a continuing heavy military presence.

In Srinagar, professor Hameeda Naeem told VOA that shops open only for a few hours early in the morning because of the atmosphere of fear and intimidation, with people mainly staying indoors.

"Drones are flying above our homes, the army is deployed at every corner, and they have already arrested thousands of young men to preempt them from potential agitation," she said.

India said that it is gradually loosening the blockade and will eventually lift a ban on internet use and phone lines. However, Kashmiris on both sides of the border told VOA they are still unable to communicate with their families.

India revoked Kashmir's status on Aug. 6 and overnight deployed a media blackout and heavy troop presence to head off possible unrest.

Shri Khaleel Ahmad, a coordinator with India's National Human Rights Commission, told VOA that his commission keeps getting queries from Indians asking about what is going on inside Kashmir.

India said its restrictions are meant to protect Kashmiris and to prevent "terrorists" in Pakistan from taking advantage of the situation to incite violence.

A spokesman for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Nalin Kohli, told VOA that Pakistan will not be successful in "sowing seeds to make Hindus and Muslims fight."

"India's Muslims are first Indian citizens and then they are Muslims or Hindus," he added.

Urging U.N. action

In Pakistan, the independent Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) has threatened to march to Srinagar if the U.N. does not address the blockade of Kashmir.

The JKLF recently mobilized supporters to protest along the Line of Control (LOC), with India calling it off only after a U.N. military delegation met the protesters.

In the past, the independent JKLF has clashed with Pakistani authorities because of its demand that both India and Pakistan withdraw from Kashmir and the U.N. intervene to give Kashmiris the right to self-determination.

However, under the present situation, the JKLF has received space to operate in the country, within limits.

Block Development Council elections

In late October, Indian officials released 170 politicians from detention and encouraged them to participate in local polls for the so-called Block Development Council (BDC).

Although the BDC is merely aimed at fostering development at the village level, mainstream political parties boycotted the vote.

Still, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi boasted on Twitter that the polls saw "historic turnout" of 98 percent.

A spokesperson for the opposition Congress party called them "sham elections."

"The candidates were mainly Pandits [Hindu elders] from the Jammu region," Congress spokesperson Salman Soz told VOA.

Hindus constitute 65 percent of the population of Jammu.

The BDC elections have ended up benefiting the ruling BJP of Modi, and independent politicians, who will now be involved in developmental activities of Kashmir.

U.S. lawmakers criticize Kashmir

In late October, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee recognized Kashmir as "disputed territory."

The committee, which oversees the funding of foreign aid programs and arms sales, can recommend to Congress that it impose sanctions against India for violating human rights in Kashmir.

Currently, the committee has said that it is watching the human rights situation closely. However, the Trump administration has given no indication it is interested in imposing restrictions on India over Kashmir.

Alice Wells, acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, indicated as much when she said that the U.S. wants to give India time to lift restrictions on Kashmiris living under Indian rule.

At the hearing, the committee scrutinized India's claim that it needs to keep security tight in Kashmir to prevent attacks by Pakistan-funded terrorists.

Wells told the committee that the U.S. had warned Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan against supporting Pakistan-based Kashmiri militant groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahedeen.

Asked if the U.S. had seen any movement from Pakistan to infiltrate Kashmir after India revoked Kashmir's autonomy, Wells replied, "The U.S. has not seen any uptick in cross-border terrorism."

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