US backs India’s right to defend itself after Kashmir attack

Indian soldiers examine the debris after a suicide attack on a military convoy on Thursday killed 44 paramilitary policemen. (Reuters)
Updated 18 February 2019

US backs India’s right to defend itself after Kashmir attack

  • India’s government said it had evidence the group Jaish-e-Mohammad, had the backing of Pakistan and demanded Islamabad take action
  • India has for years accused Muslim Pakistan of backing separatist militants in divided Kashmir

NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR: The United States has told India it supports its right to defend itself against cross-border attacks, the government said on Saturday, as New Delhi considers retaliation against a car bombing in disputed Kashmir claimed by Pakistan-based militants.

Tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have risen again after New Delhi, incensed by the deadliest attack in Kashmir in decades, demanded that Pakistan act against the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militant group behind the bombing.

Pakistan condemned Thursday’s attack in which 44 paramilitary police were killed when the bomber slammed into a military convoy and denied any complicity.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton spoke to his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on Friday night, promising to help bring those behind the attack to justice, the Indian foreign ministry said in a readout of the phone call.

“The two NSAs vowed to work together to ensure that Pakistan cease to be a safe haven for JeM and terrorist groups that target India, the US and others in the region,” the foreign ministry said.

“They resolved to hold Pakistan to account for its obligations under UN resolutions,” it added.

India has for years accused Muslim Pakistan of backing separatist militants in divided Kashmir, which the neighbors both claim in full but rule in part.

Pakistan denies that, saying it only offers political and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people in their struggle for self-determination.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has faced calls for retribution from Indians on social media as well hardline groups demonstrating in the streets, said on Saturday he had given a free hand to the military to respond to acts of violence.

“The country understands the anger simmering within the soldiers,” he said at a political rally in western Maharashtra state.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist ruling group faces a tough general election in April-May.

India and Pakistan have twice gone to war over Kashmir since their independence from Britain in 1947. In 2001, an attack on its parliament building prompted New Delhi to mobilize the military along the border with Pakistan in a standoff that lasted a year.

On Friday, India withdrew trade privileges to Pakistan in what it said was the first step to isolate Pakistan for not acting against Islamist militants operating from its soil.

As the bodies of the policemen who died in the car bomb reached their homes in small towns across India, crowds waving the Indian flag gathered in the streets to honor them and demand revenge.

Others held flowers as they walked behind the coffins in the towns of Jabalpur, Varanasi and Moga, television showed.

Tens of thousands of troops, paramilitary police and state police are deployed across scenic Kashmir to quell the nearly 30-year revolt there, India’s only Muslim-majority region.

In Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir, authorities imposed a curfew for a second day after mobs attacked vehicles and pelted stones at the homes of Kashmiris.

Sanjeev Verma, the divisional commissioner of Jammu, said that the curfew will remain until further orders to maintain law and order. An army column staged a flag march.

In New Delhi, leaders of political parties met and said they stood behind the government in its resolve to tackle terrorism.

The attack comes at a difficult time for Pakistan, as it struggles to attract foreign investment and avert a payments crisis, with foreign currency reserves swiftly diminishing.

On Friday, it summoned India’s deputy envoy in Islamabad to reject the accusations against the country.


Beijing says holding UK’s Hong Kong consulate employee

Updated 45 min 31 sec ago

Beijing says holding UK’s Hong Kong consulate employee

  • Simon Cheng went missing on Aug. 8 after sending his girlfriend a text message
  • Cheng is accused of violating the Public Security Administration Punishments Law

BEIJING: An employee of Britain’s consulate in Hong Kong who went missing earlier this month is being held in China, Beijing confirmed Wednesday.
The incident comes as relations between Britain and China have become strained over what Beijing calls London’s “interference” in pro-democracy protests that have wracked Hong Kong for three months.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press briefing the detained man had been “placed in administrative detention for 15 days as punishment” by Shenzhen police for breaking a public security law.
Geng said the employee was from Hong Kong and therefore the issue was an internal matter.
“Let me clarify, this employee is a Hong Kong citizen, he’s not a UK citizen, which is also saying he’s a Chinese person,” Geng said.
The man, named by his family as Simon Cheng, traveled to Shenzhen, a megacity on the China-Hong Kong border, for a one-day business meeting on August 8.
That night, Cheng returned via high-speed train and sent messages to his girlfriend as he was about to go through customs.
“We lost contact with him since then,” the family said in a Facebook post.
Geng said the employee had violated the Public Security Administration Punishments Law — a law with broad scope aimed at “maintaining public order in society” and “safeguarding public security,” as well as making sure police and security forces act within the law.
The ongoing protests have raised fears of a Chinese crackdown in some form.
The unrest was initially triggered by a controversial law that would allow extradition to the mainland, but has since broadened into a call for wider democratic reforms.
Beijing has repeatedly warned Britain — the former colonial ruler of Hong Kong — against any “interference” in the protests, which erupted 11 weeks ago and have seen millions of people hit the streets calling for democratic reforms.
“Recently the UK has made many erroneous remarks about Hong Kong,” Geng said at the press briefing Wednesday.
“We once again urge the British side to stop gesticulating and fanning flames on the Hong Kong issue.”
With Beijing attempting to shape the narrative of the unrest in Hong Kong, Chinese authorities have increased their inspections at the Shenzhen border, including checking the phones and devices of some passengers for photos of the protests.
The mainland metropolis of Shenzhen sits behind China’s “Great Firewall” --which restricts access to news and information — while Hong Kong enjoys liberties unseen on the mainland.
China promised to respect the freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory after its handover from Britain in 1997, including freedom of speech, unfettered access to the Internet and an independent judiciary.
Beijing also faced criticism in the past for detaining foreign nationals amid ongoing diplomatic spats.
Ottawa has urged Beijing to release two Canadian citizens detained in December amid escalating diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained amid a diplomatic crisis sparked by the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer for Chinese tech giant Huawei, in Vancouver on a US extradition bid.
Former diplomat Kovrig and consultant Spavor were picked up in China on suspicion of espionage days after her arrest, in a move widely seen as retaliation.
Friends of the missing employee staged a protest outside the British Consulate in Hong Kong on Wednesday afternoon to pressure the UK government to “save Simon.”
“Hong Kong people are still fighting to oppose the extradition bill, yet something like this happened without such a bill,” organizer Max Chung told AFP.
“If the Beijing government doesn’t explain to the public why this happened, then it is playing with fire. This is a warning to Hongkongers and to whoever wants to come to Hong Kong.”
Chung told the rally that “to our best understanding” his detained friend had not been involved with the ongoing protests that have engulfed the financial hub.
“Simon is a very good guy, and smart guy... I don’t think he would do anything stupid,” he added.