Retired Indian general urges caution against Pakistan strike

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Indian Muslims burn a photo of the Pakistani flag as they shout slogans against Pakistan during a protest in Mumbai on February 15, 2019, the day after an attack on a paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy in the Lethpora area of Kashmir. (AFP / Indranil Mukherjee)
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Vehicles are seen burning along a road during a protest in Jammu on Feb. 15, 2019, the day after an attack on a paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy in the Lethpora area of Kashmir. (AFP / Rakesh Bakshi)
Updated 17 February 2019
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Retired Indian general urges caution against Pakistan strike

  • India has threatened a “crushing response” against deadly suicide bombing in Kashmir that it blamed on Pakistan
  • Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda, a veteran in India's war against Kashmiri rebels, urged all sides in the conflict to take a step back

SRINAGAR, India: As India considers its response to the suicide car bombing of a paramilitary convoy in the disputed region of Kashmir that killed dozens of soldiers, a retired military commander who oversaw a much-lauded military strike against neighboring Pakistan in 2016 has urged caution.
A local Kashmiri militant rammed an explosive-laden van into a convoy bus on Thursday, killing 41 soldiers and injuring two dozen others in the worst attack against Indian government forces in Kashmir’s history. India blamed the attack on Pakistan and promised a “crushing response.” New Delhi accuses its archrival of supporting rebels in Kashmir, a charge that Islamabad denies.
The retired commander, Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda, told The Associated Press on Saturday that while “some kind of limited (military) strike (against Pakistan) is more than likely,” he hopes for “rethinking and reconciliation” from all sides in the conflict.
The former general, who was in charge of the army’s northern command at the frontier with Pakistan in Kashmir and counterinsurgency operations, oversaw India’s “surgical strikes” in September 2016 after militants attacked a military base in the frontier town of Uri near the highly militarized Line of Control.
Nineteen Indian soldiers and three assailants were killed in that attack. India instantly blamed Pakistan for supporting the attackers, who New Delhi alleged were Pakistani nationals.
At the peak of a 2016 civilian uprising triggered by the killing of a charismatic Kashmiri rebel leader, Hooda called for all sides to take a step back from the deadly confrontation, suggesting that political initiatives be taken instead. It was a rare move by a top Indian army general in Kashmir.
Later that year when the attack on the base in Uri happened, Hooda commanded what New Delhi called “surgical strikes” against militants in the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir — which India said involved the country’s special forces killing an unknown number of insurgents. Pakistan denied that the strikes ever occurred, demanding that India produce evidence to back up the claim.
Hooda has since said that the constant hype of “surgical strikes” was unwarranted.
Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua rejected India’s allegations about Pakistan’s involvement in the attack, saying Saturday that it was part of New Delhi’s “known rhetoric and tactics” to divert global attention from human rights violations. According to foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal, Janjua called for implementation of UN resolutions to solve the issue of Kashmir.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, demanding Kashmir be made part of Pakistan or become an independent country. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.
A pre-recorded video circulated widely on social media showed the purported attacker, Adil Ahmed Dar, in combat clothes surrounded by guns and grenades claiming responsibility for the attack and calling for more such measures to drive India out of Kashmir.
Since 2016, soldiers from India and Pakistan have often traded fire along the frontier, blaming each other for initiating the skirmishes that have resulted in the deaths of dozens of soldiers and civilians on both sides in violation of a 2003 cease-fire accord.
Hooda said that considering the state of affairs in Kashmir, he wasn’t surprised by the bombing.
“I just hope this all leads to some introspection, some deep thinking and engagement to do everything afresh and rethink what we all should be doing to settle issues once for all,” he said.
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Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.


Indian election fever wins tourism vote from around the world

Updated 7 min 11 sec ago
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Indian election fever wins tourism vote from around the world

  • General elections in India take on something of a festival feel
  • More than 35 tour companies in India are hoping to cash in on the election tourism trade

NEW DELHI: Tourists to India are being given the chance to elect for a package holiday with a difference when the country goes to the polls next month.

Travel operators are offering all-in breaks which include taking part in election rallies, attending polls and joining key political figures on campaign trails.

More than 1,600 holidaymakers from around the world have already booked six-day and two-week package deals costing between $600 and $2,000.

Minal Jain, from Indian agency Akshar Travels, said: “We want to showcase Indian democracy to the world. But not just in one state. We want to take people to different parts of India and expose them to different cultures and show how this diverse country comes together to operate democracy.”

General elections in India take on something of a festival feel, and more than 900 million people are expected to head to the polls when voting gets underway on April 11. The result of what is expected to be a tightly fought contest will be announced on May 23.

And more than 35 tour companies in India are hoping to cash in on the election tourism trade.

Akshar Travels, based in the Gujarat state capital of Ahmedabad, has several packages available on its website www.electiontourismindia.com.

Jain said that most of their customers were students, researchers and elderly people interested in Indian culture, history and politics.

As well as hundreds of confirmed bookings, agents had received more than 3,500 other enquiries from around the world about election breaks, Jain added.

The concept of election tourism began in Mexico in 2005 and gained traction a year later at a major international tourism conference in London attended by more than 100 travel operators.

It was first trialed in India during the 2012 Gujarat elections, and gained momentum in the general elections of 2014 when more than 5,200 tourists from countries including China, Nepal, the US, the UAE, Australia, Ukraine, Japan, Germany and France signed up for package deals.

Nimisha Limbachia, a non-resident Indian (NRI) based in Britain, took an Indian election holiday in 2014. “I was really curious to witness the elections after the anti-corruption movement in 2014 that galvanized the whole nation,” she said.

“It was a wonderful experience to see the huge rallies and electrifying crowds that gathered to hear Narendra Modi (current Indian Prime Minister),” the marketing professional told Arab News.

Limbachia intends to return this year too, along with hundreds of other trippers from Britain and throughout Europe.

“People in Britain and Europe are not exposed to big open rallies,” she added. “Thousands of people jostling with each other in the harsh sun to listen to speeches is something unheard of in Britain but there are many who want to experience that.”