Kashmiris living out of valley fear for safety after losing touch with families

Members of the Youth Forum for Kashmir, a civil society group, protest against India’s policy on Kashmir in Islamabad. (AP)
Updated 07 August 2019

Kashmiris living out of valley fear for safety after losing touch with families

  • Pakistan planning to approach UN Security Council, PM Khan tells Parliament

NEW DELHI: New Delhi-based journalist Haziq Qadri is desperate to contact his family in the Kashmir Valley.

The writer has not been in touch with his family in Srinagar since Sunday evening when the Indian government downed the valley’s communication networks, including all phone lines.

Qadri is worried for their safety and said: “There is no way to know how my family is feeling or what state of mind they are in.”

Kashmir Valley and the adjoining areas have been completely cut off from the rest of India by New Delhi in an attempt to contain any violent reaction to its scrapping of Article 370 of the Indian constitution that guarantees special autonomous status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Many Kashmiris in India say they are living in fear following the controversial decision and one university professor described the Indian government as being “at war with the people of Kashmir right now.”

Qadri told Arab News that due to the way the situation was unfolding he was worried about his own security in Delhi.

“Last night I called many of my Kashmiri friends at home because they were not feeling secure. They were not sure what might happen to them with the kind of jubilations some Indians are expressing with the abrogation of Article 370.

“Some of my friends studying in different colleges in India told me that they have been bullied by some Indian students. They are so nervous they don’t want to talk to anyone.

“I have been living in Delhi for the last five years and have lived in other parts of the country, but I have never felt as lonely and depressed as I feel now,” said Qadri.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said his country was considering an approach to the UN Security Council. “We will fight it at every forum. We’re thinking how we can take it to International Court (of Justice) ... to the United Nations Security Council,” Khan told Pakistan’s Parliament.

We will fight it at every forum. We’re thinking how we can take it to International Court (of Justice) ... to the United Nations Security Council.

Imran Khan, Pakistan’s premier

Prof. Ghulam Mohamad Shah, of New Delhi-based Jamia Millia Islamia University (JMI), told Arab News: “I have never felt as helpless and angry as I have been since yesterday (Sunday). Never before has Kashmir faced this unprecedented situation in a normal time when you are not able to establish contact with family in the valley.

“This is an emergency-like situation. I have heard that the Kashmir administration has created six temporary jails on the pattern of Srinagar’s central jail to deal with the situation. Security forces are planning to arrest anyone who comes out to protest.

“What has happened in Kashmir is a constitutional coup by the central government. No due process was followed in revoking the special status that Kashmir enjoyed under the Indian constitution,” said Shah.

The professor, who comes from the city of Srinagar, said that by revoking Article 370 the Indian government had rendered mainstream political parties in the valley irrelevant and pushed even normal politicians “into the camps of militants.”

He added: “I feel very angry and agitated with the way the autonomous status of Kashmir has been taken away from us. It’s the saddest day of my life. A psychological barrier has been created between India and Kashmir with the political decision of (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi’s regime.”

Most Kashmiri students at JMI approached by Arab News were too afraid to speak.

“It’s a very different kind of situation for us. We have been advised not to venture out and to lie low. We are not able to contact our families so we cannot express our anxiety to them also,” said one student from Anantnag district.

Prof. S.A.R. Geelani of Delhi University said: “The Indian government is at war with the people of Kashmir right now. The whole valley has been turned into an open prison. I have been getting reports that army tanks are marching in south Kashmir.”

Geelani has been unable to speak to his wife and children in the valley for almost two days. “The whole episode reflects the very sad state of democracy in India. My Kashmiri fellows are very agitated. This will further alienate the masses in Kashmir. I think in time to come there could be lots of disturbance. The government has pushed the Kashmiris very hard this time thereby making the situation very volatile.” He noted that the celebrations of some Indians over the move was “disturbing.”

In the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, university students took to the streets on Monday evening in a small protest demanding the roll back of the government’s decision on Kashmir’s special status.

“I want to know what is happening in my state, but I am not able to speak to any member of my family in Kashmir. It’s unprecedented,” said Attaullah Niazi, a research scholar at the University of Hyderabad.

Hailing from the Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir, Niazi added that “by revoking the special status the Indian government wants to change the demography of the Muslim-dominated state.

“Kashmiri students are living in fear and they are avoiding going out of the campus or their houses.”


Pakistan takes steps to turn locust infestation into farming benefit

Updated 04 August 2020

Pakistan takes steps to turn locust infestation into farming benefit

  • Pakistan’s worst locust infestation in about 30 years started in June 2019

ISLAMABAD: First the idea was to feed them to chickens, now the plan is to grind them into fertilizer — as more locust swarms threaten Pakistan’s crops, a project aims to test ways of killing and using the voracious pests for the benefit of local communities.
Pakistan’s worst locust infestation in about 30 years started in June 2019, when the insects came over from Iran in a surge climate experts link to changing conditions conducive to the spread of the insects.
This summer, the locusts are breeding locally, says the Pakistani government, which is trying to head off another attack by spraying pesticides on newborn locusts — called hoppers because they cannot fly — in desert areas on the Indian border.
But worries that the pesticides could be harmful to plants, animals and people have motivated researchers to seek chemical-free methods of cutting the locust population.
“We wanted to come up with a locust control project that would be environmentally friendly and sustainable,” said biotechnologist Johar Ali.
For Ali and his colleague Muhammad Khurshid, who was working for the food ministry at the time, the answer was chicken feed.
In February, the state-run Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) sent Ali and Khurshid, now with the privatization ministry, to implement a three-day trial in Punjab province in eastern Pakistan.
During an infestation this spring, villagers in Okara district plucked locusts — which are largely immobile at night — off trees in a nearby forest, gathering about 20 tons of the flying insects.
The project team bought the bugs for 20 Pakistani rupees a kilo, then sold them to a nearby processing plant, which dried them and mixed them into chicken feed, Ali said.
The aim was to help control the locust surge in forested and heavily populated areas, where widespread pesticide spraying is not possible, while also generating income for communities hit by the swarms.
“It’s an out-of-box solution,” Ali said. “It could easily be scaled up in our populated rural areas. Yes, in our desert areas where locusts breed, chemical sprays make sense — but not in areas where we have farms with crops, livestock and people.”
In June, the government shifted the focus from chicken feed to compost, after PARC decided fertilizer was a safer and more feasible use for the insects.
Last month, communities living in the desert areas of Cholistan, Tharparkar, Nara and Thal were trained on how to catch locusts as they head there to breed for the season.
The next step is to look at how to turn the pests into organic fertilizer, explained PARC chairman Muhammad Azeem Khan.
By providing a “slow and continuous” release of nutrients, the compost could help farmers increase their yields by 30 percent and cut their use of chemical fertilizer in half, he said.
Pakistan’s current locust problem started with what Muhammad Tariq Khan, technical director of the food security ministry’s plant protection department, called a “climate change-induced international locust crisis” in Yemen and East Africa.
“Two big cyclones in 2018 dumped enough water in a desert area called the Empty Quarter in the Arabian Peninsula for three generations of locusts to grow undetected,” he said.
Torn by civil war, Yemen was unable to focus on exterminating the pests, which lay their eggs beneath the soil, and so “they came up like a bomb,” Khan said.
July’s monsoon rains arrived 10 days earlier than usual in Pakistan, creating moist soil conditions favorable for the locusts to breed in the border desert area, Khan said.
Swarms are also expected to arrive soon in Pakistan from Somalia, he said.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates losses to agriculture from locusts this year could be as high as 353 billion rupees ($2.2 billion) for winter crops like wheat and potatoes and about 464 billion rupees for summer crops.
“You can’t eradicate locusts, but you can control them. In this situation we have to rely on chemicals,” Khan said.
So far, insecticide-spraying operations have been carried out in 32 affected districts — both desert and cropping areas — spread over about 1 million hectares.
Pakistan’s pesticide-spraying operations had made it impossible to ensure the locusts eaten by poultry would be chemical-free, said PARC’s Azeem Khan.
“Sprayed locusts, if used as feed, are a threat to human health,” he said.
The new project, which has been approved by the National Locust Control Center, will entail buying living and dead locusts from local communities at 25 rupees per kilo.
The bugs will then be mixed with bio-waste such as manure and vegetation to turn them into compost, Azeem Khan said.
PARC is now analyzing samples of dead and decomposing locusts that have been sprayed with insecticide to assess the levels of chemical residue on them, he noted.
The PARC chairman said the government had earmarked $15 million for the project, with just over half going to the communities and the rest toward compost-processing.