Kashmir cease-fire signals Delhi’s desire for peace, say experts

An Indian police officer fires a tear gas shell towards demonstrators, during a protest against the recent killings in Kashmir. (REUTERS/Danish Ismail TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Updated 17 May 2018

Kashmir cease-fire signals Delhi’s desire for peace, say experts

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announced on Wednesday that it would suspend all operations against rebels in the disputed Kashmir state
  • Kashmir has been gripped by frequent bouts of violence for the past several months and more than 130 people have been killed in the state this year

NEW DELHI: India’s decision to suspend operations against militants in Kashmir during the holy month of Ramadan is a good move and one that sends a message that the government is willing to negotiate peace, experts said on Thursday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announced on Wednesday that it would suspend all operations against rebels in the disputed Kashmir state with two exceptions — if Indian security forces were attacked or if innocent lives were in danger.
“The decision was taken to help peace-loving Muslims observe Ramzan in a peaceful environment,” the official handle of the office of the home minister tweeted on Wednesday.
Kashmir has been at the heart of a dispute between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, both of which claim it. It has been gripped by frequent bouts of violence for the past several months and more than 130 people have been killed in the state this year, according to media reports.
At least 120 local men have joined the militancy this year — up from 16 in 2013, said Happymon Jacob, associate professor of disarmament studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.
“The announcement is a good one because it tells you this is the season of Ramadan and fasting and (people) should try not to get into such conflicts,” Jacob said. “Most of the militants in Jammu and Kashmir are local boys and this decision is a way of telling the people in Kashmir that we are willing to negotiate, we are willing to talk,” Jacob said.
Soon after the federal government’s announcement, however, militants attacked an army patrol party in Shopian in south Kashmir, according to local reports. It was not clear if there were any casualties.
The decision came a week after all parties in the state, led by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, recommended it to the government. Her party, the PDP, rules the state in an alliance with Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. New Delhi agreed with Mufti’s suggestion despite resistance from its state leadership in Kashmir. At the time a BJP spokesman told local media that such a move would “demoralize security forces.”
Mufti “wholeheartedly” welcomed the move and thanked the prime minister and the home minister “for their personal intervention.” In a tweet, she said: “The month of Ramadan is a harbinger of peace & such a decision will go a long way in creating a peaceful & amicable environment for a sustained dialogue.”
As a result of the rise in militancy as well as heightened social unrest, the BJP-PDP alliance has lost all support in the state, Jacob said. By pushing for a cease-fire, it is a way for the PDP, for Mufti, to reclaim some lost territory, he said.
“More importantly, this cease-fire offer could also be a realization in Delhi to have some stability both externally (on the border with Pakistan) and internally going into 2019 national elections,” he said.
India and Pakistan have accused each other’s security forces of harassing their diplomats for several months this year. That ongoing tension has recently, and suddenly, died down, Jacob said, adding that the Indian government could be trying to calm the situation.
The last time that India offered a cease-fire to militants was in 2000. At that time, too, the government in New Delhi was led by the BJP. That cease-fire soon fell apart due to militant attacks.

Sabika Shaikh’s family waiting to see her one last time

The coffin of Sabika Shaikh, 17, is carried during her funeral service in Stafford, Texas, on May, 20, 2018. Sabika was an exchange student from Pakistan. (AFP)
Updated 59 min 51 sec ago

Sabika Shaikh’s family waiting to see her one last time

  • The Punjab administration has announced a scholarship in the name of the Texas school shooting victim.
  • Sabika’s body will arrive in Pakistan on Wednesday morning. Her father says he was greatly moved to see how many people attended her funeral in Houston.

KARACHI: Abdul Aziz Shaikh, father of the Pakistani victim of the Texas school shooting, told Arab News on Monday that he would have to wait to see his daughter for the last time due to a delay in flights from the US.

“Sabika’s body was due to arrive in Karachi on Tuesday morning; however, due to a change in flight schedules, we will receive her at 4 a.m. on Wednesday,” he said.

“It’s really difficult but we have no option but to wait,” he continued, adding that officials at the Pakistan Consulate in Houston were striving to make the best possible arrangements for sending her body back to her home.

The 17-year-old Pakistani foreign exchange student, participating in the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program in the US, was killed, along with nine others, when a teenage classmate opened fire on fellow students in the Santa Fe High School in Texas on Friday.

Sabika’s funeral prayers were offered at a local mosque in Houston after the noon prayer on Sunday.

“We thought she was only loved by her family. But the way people showed up at her funeral in Houston — and the way everyone condoled with us in Karachi — shows that she was loved by everyone," her father said.

Shaikh said he saw the video of the Houston funeral, pointing out that it was not only attended by Pakistani-Americans but people from all Muslim countries. Many of those who attended the ceremony, he added, belonged to other faiths. They were all mourning her untimely death, he said.

“All this shows people’s exemplary attachment to her. It makes us very proud.”

Rana Mashhood Khan, a minister in the Punjab administration who visited the bereaved family on Sunday evening, told Arab News that the provincial government was going to introduce a “Sabika Scholarship” that would be awarded to brilliant students from Punjab. This, he added, would help them study abroad in some of the best educational institutions around the world.

“I met the family and conveyed a special message from Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. We wanted them to know that we will institute a scholarship in the name of their talented daughter for young and bright students in our province,” Khan said.

Shaikh seemed happy to hear the announcement. “I’m glad that the name of my daughter will be associated with a scholarship that will benefit our students.”

He also said that a Karachi-based industrialist, Ishtiaq Baig, had also promised to introduce a scholarship in Sabika’s name. “She is making us all very proud. I wish I could see her alive with so many accomplishments.”

On Sunday, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also visited Shaikh’s residence to condole with the family.

Expressing deep grief and sorrow, the prime minister described Sabika as a talented Pakistani student, adding that the whole nation was mourning her death. The Pakistani premier also pointed out that extremist tendencies were not just a problem in one country or region, but that they were an international one.

Earlier, in an interview with Arab News, Shaikh had revealed that his daughter wanted to be a diplomat and improve the image of her country.

“Sabika wanted to sit the Central Superior Services (CSS) exams and join the Foreign Service of Pakistan. She thought that Pakistan was a great country, but that it had an image problem.”

“At one point, she told me that she wanted to be like Maleeha Lodhi and Tasneem Aslam,” Shaikh had said. “Her desire was to improve the image of Pakistan abroad.”