Kashmir shuts down over threat to special rights 

An Indian paramilitary trooper stands guard in front of closed shops during a one-day strike called by Kashmiri traders in Srinagar. (AFP)
Updated 06 March 2019
0

Kashmir shuts down over threat to special rights 

  • Indian Constitution gives Jammu and Kashmir special status
  • Fear that Muslim-majority demographic will change

NEW DELHI: There was a shutdown in Indian-administered Kashmir on Tuesday over attempts to change a law that gives special rights to the state and the people living there.

Trade associations staged the one-day in strike in protest at calls among the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to change Article 35A, which gives Jammu and Kashmir a special status in the Indian Constitution.

Article 35A confers special status to permanent residents and bars people from outside the state from acquiring any immovable property inside it. It also gives permanent residents special rights and privileges in public sector jobs, acquisition of property in the state, scholarships and other public aid and welfare.

Besides Article 35A, Article 370 of the Indian Constitution also grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

“The BJP has only one agenda in Kashmir and that is to remove Article 370 and 35 A - the two main important provisions that give specials rights to the state of Jammu and Kashmir,” Haji Muhammad Yasin, chairman of the Kashmir Economic Alliance, told Arab News. “They want to alter the demography of the Muslim majority state by diluting Article 35A and, once they succeed, they can do anything in the valley. It’s a question of the survival of the state. We will oppose any attempt to alter Article 35A with all our might.”

The shutdown came days ahead of a crucial hearing in the Supreme Court on Article 35A that will decide if the constitutional provision is valid.

Last September the BJP’s Ashwini Upadhyay questioned Article 35A’s validity and filed a plea with the Supreme Court to rule on the issue.

His petition said that the provision was a temporary one and it, along with Article 370, had lapsed with the dissolution of the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly in 1957.

The provision was incorporated in 1954 by India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

“The question on Article 35A is sub judice and it is premature to comment on this,” the valley’s BJP leader Dr. Hina Bhat told Arab News. “No political party or group has a right to talk about or discuss this issue when the matter is pending in court.”

She said she would respect whatever judgement came in the Supreme Court.

Other political parties have warned about the consequences of changing or scrapping Article 35A.

“We have to get united and sit together to chalk out a strategy to save Article 35A because if there is any tampering with it, then there will be no question of saving Article 35A, but about saving Jammu and Kashmir,” Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of the state and leader of the People’s Democratic Party, told Arab News.

Sheikh Showkat Hussain, professor at the Central University of Kashmir, said Article 35A protected the whole state of Jammu and Kashmir, its properties and services.

“It’s a fundamental rights for everyone to move and settle down anywhere in India. It was anticipated that people would come and settle down in Jammu and Kashmir, so constitutional provisions were made in 1954 to protect the state from outside settlers. But such exclusive provision does not exist only for Kashmir, there are other states also where special provisions have been made to protect the rights of the local inhabitants,”  he told Arab News.

“The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh - the ideological godfather of the BJP - has long been saying that the demography of Jammu and Kashmir needs to be altered and today’s politics are the reflection of that thought. The politics around Article 35A are part of the majoritarian project of Hindu right-wing parties.”

He said the BJP wanted to create “Kashmir phobia, Pakistan phobia” to consolidate the Hindu vote ahead of elections this year.


Germany in push to resurrect talks with Taliban

Updated 26 May 2019
0

Germany in push to resurrect talks with Taliban

  • Only the Afghans ‘can decide upon the future of their country’

KABUL, BERLIN: Germany, a leading donor and member of the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, has been talking with the Taliban and the Afghan government in an effort to restart peace talks to end 18 years of conflict, officials said.

While the Taliban have been talking with US officials since October about withdrawal of international troops, they have so far refused formal talks with the Western-backed government, which they dismiss as a “puppet” regime.

Berlin’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Markus Potzel, has visited Kabul for talks with the Afghan government and met Taliban officials in Doha at least twice this month.

“The current chance for a process toward a more peaceful Afghanistan should not be missed. If the friends of Afghanistan — and Germany is one of them — together can help in this effort, then we should do it,” Potzel said.

“In the end, only the Afghans themselves, including the Taliban, can decide upon the future of their country.”

The chief US negotiator in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, in March said that a draft agreement had been reached on a withdrawal of US forces in exchange for a commitment by the Taliban to cut ties with militant groups such as Al-Qaeda.

But there has been no agreement yet on a cease-fire or a start to talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, both seen as key conditions for a settlement.

An Afghan delegation had been due to meet Taliban officials in the Qatari capital Doha last month to build the basis for possible negotiations, but the meeting was canceled at the last minute after a dispute over the number of participants.

FASTFACT

 

● At least 3,804 Afghan civilians were killed in the war last year. ● 14,000 US troops are still stationed in Afghanistan.

“We realize that US-Taliban talks will gain momentum only if the insurgent leaders start engaging with the Afghan representatives,” a senior German official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Sohail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha, said that Germany was one among several countries to have offered help to seek a peaceful resolution. 

The EU and Indonesia are among those to have offered help, another Taliban official said, declining to be named.

Discussions were held with Germany about an Afghan-Taliban meeting in Germany but no decision has been made, Shaheen told Reuters.

 

Captives subjected to abuse

Afghan captives held by the Taliban have been subjected to abuse, ill-treatment and actions that may amount to torture, the UN said on Sunday.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said it interviewed 13 detainees from a group of 53 recently rescued from the Taliban, mainly members of Afghan forces but also civilians and government officials captured by the insurgents.

The group was freed on April 25 when Afghan troops raided a Taliban-run detention facility in the Khas Uruzgan district in southern Uruzgan province.

Most of the captives were held since 2018, with three since 2016, the UNAMA statement said, adding they were kept in poor conditions and subjected to forced labor. It cites the detainees as saying that the Taliban killed some of their captives.

“I am gravely concerned about these serious allegations of ill-treatment, torture and unlawful killing of civilians and security personnel, as well as the deplorable conditions of detention,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the head of UNAMA.

The detainees were shackled while in captivity and almost all said they were beaten. The Taliban told them it was punishment for supporting the government, working with the Americans or fighting the insurgents.