India repeals Kashmir status after clampdown

People rally to protest and express support and solidarity with Indian Kashmiri people in Lahore on Monday. (AP)
Updated 06 August 2019

India repeals Kashmir status after clampdown

  • Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy, says political leader Mufti

NEW DELHI: The Indian government on Monday scrapped Article 370 of the constitution, which gave the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir a special autonomous status under the union.

In an unprecedented move, New Dehli divided the state into two union territories. The majority Buddhist Ladakh will become a union territory and the Hindu and Muslim areas of Jammu and Kashmir will become another union territory with a legislative assembly. 

A union territory is an administrative division directly governed by the center and their representatives. The local assembly under such administrative divisions has limited power.

Home Minister Amit Shah informed the Upper House of Parliament about the presidential decree before moving a resolution in Parliament abrogating Article 370. 

“The entire constitution will be applicable to the Jammu and Kashmir state,” Shah said.

He described the decision as “historical,” arguing that the scrapped law was preventing the integration of Jammu and Kashmir into the Indian union.

In 1947, the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir signed an instrument of accession with India. This was later formalized into the constitution in 1952, bestowing a special status to the state.

Under Article 370, New Delhi needs the approval of the local assembly to pass any bill except on those relating to defense, foreign affairs, finance and communication.

The decree also has the support of Article 35A, which gives residents of Kashmir special rights to live in the state.

The abolition of the article has drawn sharp reactions from the political parties in the valley and outside.

“Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy,” former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti said.

In a series of tweets, she said that the “decision of the Jammu and Kashmir leadership to reject two-nation theory in 1947 and align with India has backfired. Unilateral decision of government of India to scrap Article 370 is illegal and unconstitutional, which will make India an occupational force in Jammu and Kashmir.”

She warned that “it will have catastrophic consequences for the subcontinent. Indian government’s intentions are clear. They want the territory of the state by terrorizing its people. India has failed Kashmir in keeping its promises.”

Omar Abdullah, leader of the National Conference, said the change is a “total betrayal of the trust that the people of Jammu and Kashmir had reposed in India when the state acceded to it in 1947.”

He called the decision to scrap the law as New Delhi’s “aggression against the people of the state.”

Opposition Congress Party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad described it as “a murder of democracy and an aggression against the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”

Abdullah, Mufti and other political leaders have been under house arrest in Srinagar since Sunday evening.

The state’s communication network has been blocked since yesterday, preventing people from reacting to the political upheaval.

Since Friday, the state has been put on high alert with the government issuing an advisory asking tourists and Hindu pilgrims to leave immediately. 

In the last week, more than 38,000 additional troops have been sent to the state to deal with potential unrest. The Jammu region of the state has also been put on alert.

“The government has imposed section 144 in Jammu to ban any kind of gathering,” said Amjad Shah, a Jammu-based journalist from Rising Kashmir.

Constitution expert A V Gupta said that “this is a foolish decision by the government of India.”

“Article 370 was the only link between India and the state of Jammu and Kashmir. By scrapping it, you are making the state a separate country,” Gupta added.

He told Arab News that “the government’s decision is highly undemocratic and against the spirit of the constitution and democracy.”

“Article 370 has been challenged in the Supreme Court many times and the court rejected any move to scrap it. Now if the matter goes to the court, I suspect the apex court will refer it to the larger constitutional bench,” he added.

Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, editor of the Kashmir Times said: “Constitutional experts believe that the article is the only link between India and Jammu and Kashmir and if you remove it then there remains nothing.

“This is a government which does not believe in constitutional and judicial propriety.”

She told Arab News that “New Delhi took an unprecedented political decision affecting the 7 million people of Jammu and Kashmir by putting the entire state under curfew.

“This might invite violent backlash and unheard of reactions. This might push the valley further into the vortex of deep uncertainty”.

Amnesty International said that New Delhi’s decision “is likely to inflame prevailing tensions, alienate the people in the state and increase the risk of further human rights violations.”


Afghan capital’s air pollution may be even deadlier than war

Updated 13 November 2019

Afghan capital’s air pollution may be even deadlier than war

  • People are dying, not from the war, but the toxic air they breathe in
  • Research group State of Global Air says more than 26,000 deaths could be attributed due to the pollution

KABUL, Afghanistan: Yousuf fled with his family from his home in eastern Afghanistan eight years ago to escape the war, but he couldn’t escape tragedy. In the capital, Kabul, five of his children died, not from violence or bombings, but from air pollution, worsened by bitter cold and poverty.
At the camp for displaced people they live in, they and other families keep warm and cook by burning the garbage that surrounds them. One by one over the years, each of the children got chest infections and other maladies from the pollution and never made it to age seven, he told The Associated Press. The 60-year-old has nine surviving children.

Yusouf, who escaped war in eastern Afghanistan to safeguard his family, speaks during an interview in Kabul, Afghanistan. In the capital, Kabul, five of his children died, not from violence or bombings, but from air pollution, worsened by bitter cold and poverty. (AP/Rahmat Gul)

“We didn’t have enough money for the doctor and medicine ... I can barely feed my children,” said Yousuf, who works as a porter in a vegetable market earning barely a dollar a day. Like many Afghans he uses only one name.
Afghanistan’s pollution may be even deadlier than its war, now 18 years long.
There are no official statistics on how many Afghans die of pollution-related illnesses, but the research group State of Global Air said more than 26,000 deaths could be attributed to it in 2017. In contrast, 3,483 civilians were killed that year in the Afghan war, according to the United Nations.
Kabul, a city of some 6 million, has become one of the most polluted cities in the world — ranking in the top of the list among other polluted capitals such as India’s New Delhi or China’s Beijing. Decades of war have wrecked the city’s infrastructure and caused waves of displaced people.
On most days, a pall of smog and smoke lies over the city. Old vehicles pump toxins into the air, as do electrical generators using poor quality fuel. Coal, garbage, plastic and rubber are burned by poor people at home, as well as at the many brick kilns, public baths and bakeries. Many apartment buildings have no proper sanitation system, and garbage is piled on roadsides and sidewalks.
The large majority of victims are poisoned by the air in their own homes, as families burn whatever they can to keep warm in Kabul’s winters, with frequent sub-zero temperatures and snow. Children and elderly are particularly vulnerable. At least 19,400 of the 2017 deaths were attributable to household pollution, which also contributed to a loss of two years and two months of life expectancy at birth, according to the State of Global Air survey.

Old vehicles are pumping poisonous fumes into the air. (AFP)

Yousuf’s camp, home to more than a hundred families, has no proper water or sanitation system and is surrounded by garbage dumps. His and other families’ children search through the garbage for paper, cloth, sticks or plastic, anything that can be burned for fuel.
“We are so poor, and we have lots of problems, we don’t have enough money for medicine, wood or coal for heating, so this is our life, my children collect garbage from dump yards and we use it for cooking and heating to keep the kids warm,” he added.
Decades of war have worsened the damage to Afghanistan’s environment and have made it a huge challenge to address them. Environmental issues are far down the list of priorities for a government struggling with basic security issues, rampant corruption and a plunging economy.
Three or four decades ago, “it was a wish for people to come to Kabul and breath this air,” said Ezatullah Sediqi, deputy director for the National Environmental Protection Agency. But in the wars since, “we lost all our urban infrastructure for water, electricity, public transportation, green areas, all these things,” he said.
Kabul’s environmental department has launched a new program to control old vehicles, one significant source of pollution.
“Fighting pollution is an important as fighting terrorism,” said Mohammad Kazim Humayoun, the department’s director.
Authorities warn that this winter is expected to be colder than usual and fear that will only increase the use of pollution-creating fuels to keep warm. The Kabul municipality has also called on residents to stop burning garbage for heat and instead use fuel.

The wife of Yousuf who fled from their home in eastern Afghanistan, burns plastic to make tea at a camp for displaced people, in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP /Rahmat Gul)

“If everyone follows the instructions laid out by Kabul Municipality, the pollution could be controlled,” the municipality’s spokeswoman, Nargis Mohmand, said. But if not, “then we might live with this untreatable wound for years to come.”
But fuel is either too expensive or not available for many in Kabul. Electrical heaters are too pricey for most, and power outages are frequent.
Doctors at Kabul’s Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital say they’ve seen the numbers of patients with pollution-related illnesses increase, though they could not give exact figures. In the winter, hundreds of children a day sometimes come in, suffering from respiratory illnesses, according to hospital officials.
Dr. Saifullah Abassin, a specialist trainer at the hospital, said his ward has a capacity of 10 patients but often has three times that number.
The government has launched an environmental awareness campaign. Ads on TV, programs at schools and universities and sermons at mosques talk about pollution’s harm to society and tell listeners about steps to reduce it.
But there are steps the state needs to take, like encouraging the planting of trees and creating green spaces, as well as implementing a city master plan to stop unplanned development around the capital, often a source of pollution because of their lack of services.
Sediqi, of the NEPA, said that ever since the first post-Taliban government was created in 2001, there was no planning on urban infrastructure, which left individuals to build on their own.
“Unfortunately, that led to unplanned development,” he said. “So now we have numerous urban problems and challenges and organizational challenges, which is causing the environmental pollution.”