Kashmir terror attack: Indian PM warns of strong action

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An activist of the youth wing of India's main opposition Congress party shouts slogans during a protest against the attack on a bus that killed 44 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in south Kashmir on Thursday, in New Delhi, India, February 15, 2019. (REUTERS)
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Activists of the youth wing of India's main opposition Congress party shout slogans during a protest against the attack on a bus that killed 44 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in south Kashmir on Thursday, in New Delhi, India, February 15, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 16 February 2019

Kashmir terror attack: Indian PM warns of strong action

  • Modi blames Pakistan for the deaths of 42 soldiers; Islamabad rejects allegations

NEW DELHI: India’s government on Friday held a high-level security meeting where it blamed Pakistan for the terror attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir that claimed the lives of 42 troops from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on Thursday.
“Those who did the heinous act will have to pay a heavy price. Those who supported it will definitely be punished,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said after the meeting.
The Cabinet Committee on Security also decided to withdraw the Most Favored Nation status (MFN) accorded to Pakistan for the “support given to the Jaish-e-Mohammad,” a terror group that has claimed responsibility for the incident. The attack took place in the Lethpora village — along a highway in the Pulwama district of South Kashmir — when a suspected suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a bus carrying paramilitary troopers.
Condemning Pakistan for the incident, Modi said that “our neighboring country thinks such terror attacks can weaken us, but their plans will not materialize. The security forces have been given complete freedom, the blood of the people is boiling.”
The main opposition Congress Party also held a press conference where former prime minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, and the party’s president, Rahul Gandhi, took turns to address the gathering. “The entire Congress party and most of the opposition stands by the security forces and the government in this difficult time. We are not going to get into any other conversation,” Gandhi said.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry released a statement blaming Pakistan “for supporting terror groups.”
“We demand that Pakistan stop supporting terrorists and terror groups operating from their territory and dismantle the infrastructure operated by terrorist outfits to launch attacks in other countries,” the Foreign Ministry Affairs said.
Islamabad has rejected the allegations. “We have always condemned acts of violence anywhere in the world. We strongly reject any insinuation by elements in the Indian media and government that seek to link the attack to Pakistan without investigations,” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Local security experts in Kashmir, however, said that such a suicide attack “marks a new normal in militancy in Kashmir.”
“Since 2014, the dialogue process has reached a dead-end from all sides. An atmosphere of fear has been unleashed in the Valley and that is the problem,” Gul Mohammed Wani, a professor at the University of Kashmir, said.
“Media reports say that the suicide bomber was from Pulwama only, a local boy. This points to desperation and a level of disconnect that Kashmiri youth have now. It is a new kind of militancy which is a matter of concern,” he said.
Meanwhile, a Srinagar-based political analyst and thinker, Prof. Siddiq Wahid, questioned “how long will both sides continue to mourn? It is senseless when you consider that it is the result of an arrogant power center refusing to talk, to engage in a dialogue. What does it take to accept that listening to the aspirations of people is a civilized norm?”
“The absence … and the rejection of dialogue has politically radicalized Kashmir. Not just among its youth but generally, too,” he told Arab News. “To blame Pakistan for it is to abdicate responsibility to understand, politically and socially, what a state is, and to look at India’s problems purely through the lens of some sort of strange and ironic victimhood for its population of more than a billion.”
Manoj Joshi of a New Delhi-based think tank, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), said that “this is the larger failure of the government because, for the last four years, the government has launched an operation all out to finish off militancy.”
“This is the most serious attack since the militancy started in the 1990s. Obviously, there is something wrong with the policy because the previous policy has managed to bring down the casualty and violence. But the violence has been going up for the last few years; it is a clear sign the policy of the present regime has failed,” he said, adding that an “all military strategy is the extension of political strategy and you have to have a political strategy before you think of having an effective military strategy.”
He criticized the government for creating a war hysteria, saying that “it’s easy to start the war but it’s difficult to predict what would be the outcome.” He, however, said that Pakistan cannot escape the responsibility. “If it’s serious about combatting terror it should hand over the Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar to India,” he said.


Tiananmen anniversary marked by crackdown, Hong Kong vigil ban

Updated 13 min 11 sec ago

Tiananmen anniversary marked by crackdown, Hong Kong vigil ban

  • Hong Kong cancels annual candlelight vigil for the first time in 30 years
  • Tiananmen Square, where thousands of students had gathered in 1989, was quiet and largely empty on Thursday

BEIJING: China tightened controls over dissidents while pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and elsewhere sought ways to mark the 31st anniversary Thursday of the crushing of the pro-democracy movement centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
That came after authorities in Hong Kong took the extraordinary move of canceling an annual candlelight vigil in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s Victoria Park for the first time in 30 years.
Authorities cited the need for social distancing amid the coronavirus outbreak, despite the recent reopening of schools, beaches, bars and beauty parlors. Hong Kong has had relatively few cases of the virus and life has largely returned to normal in the city of 7.4 million.
However, China has long detested the vigil, the only such activity allowed on Chinese territory to commemorate victims of the crackdown, which remains a taboo subject on the mainland. Hundreds, possibly thousands of people were killed when tanks and troops assaulted the center of Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989 to break up weeks of student-led protests seen as posing a threat to authoritarian Communist Party rule.
Tiananmen Square, where thousands of students had gathered in 1989, was quiet and largely empty on Thursday. Police and armored vehicles stood sentry on the vast surface the square. Few pedestrians lined up at security checkpoints where they must show ID to be allowed through as part of mass nationwide surveillance measures aimed at squelching any dissent.
The cancelation of the vigil also comes amid a tightening of Beijing’s grip over Hong Kong, with the National People’s Congress, China’s ceremonial parliament, moving to pass national security legislation that circumvents Hong Kong’s local legislature and could severely limit free speech and opposition political activity.
In Hong Kong, a law is being passed to make it a crime to disrespect China’s national anthem and 15 well-known veteran activists were arrested and charged with organizing and taking part in illegal demonstrations. Those actions are seen as part of a steady erosion of civil rights Hong Kong was guaranteed when it was handed over from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Despite the ban on the vigil, the Asian financial hub was bracing for “pop-up” protests of the type that raged around the city during months of anti-government protests last year that often led to violent confrontations between police and demonstrators.
Thousands have been arrested over the demonstrations, which were sparked by proposed legislation that could have seen suspects extradited to mainland China where they could face torture and unfair, politically biased trials.
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic and Democratic Movements of China that organizes the annual vigil has called on people around the city to light candles at 8 p.m. and plans to livestream the commemorations on its website www.64live.org.
Alliance Chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said protesters still planned to gather at the park to mourn victims of the massacre and show their support for the democratic cause in China. It wasn’t clear what form the activity would take or how many would attend. The entrance to the park was blocked by police barriers on Thursday.
“Hong Kong government tried to please or show loyalty to Beijing and ban our gathering before even the national security comes in. But we are determined,” Lee said at a kiosk set up by the group to distribute flyers in the busy Causeway Bay shopping district near the park.
Other vigils, virtual and otherwise, are planned elsewhere, including in Taiwan, the self-ruled island democracy whose government called again this year for Beijing to own up to the facts of the crackdown.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo marked the crackdown anniversary on Tuesday, a day after federal forces used tear gas to clear peaceful protesters from a park in front of the White House.
Pompeo tweeted criticism of China and Hong Kong for banning the vigil before meeting privately with a group of Tiananmen Square survivors at the State Department. That too drew criticism from China.
Alongside the exchanges of rhetoric, China’s small, beleaguered dissident community has again come under greater scrutiny from the authorities. Many have been placed under house arrest and their communications with the outside world cut off, according to rights groups.
China has released the last of those arrested for directly taking part in the Tiananmen demonstrations, but others who seek to commemorate them have been rearrested for continuing their activism.
They include Huang Qi, founder of website 64 Tianwang that sought to expose official wrongdoing. Reportedly in failing health, he is serving a 12-year-sentence after being convicted of leaking state secrets abroad.