India arrests top Kashmir politician as crisis deepens

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Shah Faesal, president of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement, was detained in New Delhi as he was about to fly to Turkey. (Reuters)
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The streets of Pulwama town, south of Kashmir, look deserted on Wednesday. Many arrests of young people have taken place in the area. (AN photo by Manzoor Ul Hassan)
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The streets of the Shopian town, south of Kashmir, look deserted on Wednesday. Many youths have been arrested from the area. (AN photo by Manzoor Ul Hassan)
Updated 15 August 2019

India arrests top Kashmir politician as crisis deepens

  • Police making arrests to avoid civilian casualties, says official

SRINAGAR: Police on Wednesday arrested a politician from Indian-administered Kashmir, as a crisis in the region deepened.

Shah Faesal, who is president of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement, was detained at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport before he was able to board his flight to Turkey.

He is one of hundreds of political and civil society leaders who have been detained since India imposed a communications blackout and security lockdown in Kashmir.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan following their independence from Britain in 1947, but both claim it in full. 

Earlier this month India brought its portion under direct rule, stripping the Muslim-majority region of its special status and sparking a backlash. Article 370 gave exclusive land rights to the people of Kashmir and blocked outsiders from seeking jobs and settlement in the state.

“It’s an indiscriminate clampdown and paramilitary personnel are randomly picking up youths,” said Naeem Dar. He lives in Pulwama and has two relatives who were taken into preventive custody last week. 

“There is a strong sense of fear that anyone can be picked up.”

A police official told a news conference that people were being arrested to stop civilian casualties. 

“In this kind of law and order situation different kinds of detentions have taken place so that the established miscreants don’t vitiate the atmosphere,” said Munir Khan, who is additional director general of police in Jammu and Kashmir. 

“Preventive detentions are taking place and we are arresting people under the Public Safety Act. But we are releasing some, mostly those who were participating in protests for the first time, after they sign a surety bond. These arrests are taking place to avoid civilian casualties.”

Rohit Kansal, principal secretary of the Jammu and Kashmir government, defended Faesal’s detention, saying it was “on the grounds of law and order.” He did not say when political detainees would be released.

India has detained three former Jammu and Kashmir chief ministers — Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti — as well as activists and separatist leaders in the last 10 days. They have been taken to different parts of India.

It’s an indiscriminate clampdown and paramilitary personnel are randomly picking up youths.

Naeem Dar, Resident of Pulwama

Some who have not been detained are refusing to give interviews. 

Arab News tried to talk to a prominent human rights activist in Srinagar, but he declined because of the “unprecedented situation prevailing in the valley.”

Local journalists are also scared to publish any “unpalatable story” and newspapers have cut down on the number of pages.

“The media is under great pressure in the valley,” Altaf Hussain told Arab News. The political analyst and former journalist said the media was not free to report what it wanted. 

“It’s not only people who are living under a heavy clampdown, with their movement highly restricted and being completely cut off from any means of communication.” 

Syed Abdul Rouf, who lives in downtown Srinagar, was angry at the way Kashmiris were being treated.

“If the government thinks that, if by putting security forces at every nook and corner of the valley, they can scare us they are living in a fool’s paradise. People will react strongly the moment that the restrictions are lifted.”

Fayaz Ahmad, a trader, said everyone was scared.

“Not only have our leaders been arrested, many ordinary people have also been detained,” he told Arab News. 

“I ask why? Don’t we have democratic rights to express our anguish at the way the Indian government has trampled on our identity?”

Tens of thousands of troop reinforcements have been deployed to Srinagar and other towns and villages, according to news agency AFP. 

But the lockdown has not deterred people from taking to the streets.

Media reports say that thousands have been demonstrating, with security forces firing tear gas and pellet-firing shotguns to break up the protests.

There has been an armed rebellion against Indian rule since 1989, claiming tens of thousands of lives, mostly civilians.

India sends 36 ministers to restive Kashmir on charm offensive

Updated 18 January 2020

India sends 36 ministers to restive Kashmir on charm offensive

  • Ministers are on a five-day outreach mission to connect with people in the valley
  • The ministers’ visit follows a New Delhi-sponsored trip of 15 foreign ambassadors

NEW DELHI: India has dispatched dozens of ministers to its portion of the Kashmir region to promote government projects and development following months of unrest in the area.

Last August New Delhi revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, imposing a security crackdown and a communications blackout. It is India’s only Muslim-majority state and scrapping its semi-independence was the central government’s bid to integrate it fully with India and rein in militancy.

Prepaid mobile and Internet services have been restored although most of the valley remains without the Internet. Landline and post-paid mobile services were restored last month. 

The 36 ministers are on a five-day outreach mission to connect with people in the valley, with media reports saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the delegation “to spread the message of development among the people, not only in the urban areas but also in the villages of the valley.”

He was also reported as asking them to tell people about central government schemes that will have grassroot benefits.

The ministers’ visit follows a New Delhi-sponsored trip of 15 foreign ambassadors to the region.

Jammu-based ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo said the ministerial trip tied in with New Delhi’s development agenda.

“The ministers will interact with local-level representatives and stakeholders, and discuss the plan for the development of Jammu and Kashmir,” he told Arab News. “Kashmir cannot go back to the old ways. There are no political issues that remain here, all have been sorted out by parliament by abolishing Article 370, division of the state and neutralization of separatist elements.”

But India’s opposition Congress party said the visit was an attempt to “mislead and misguide” the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

“This is a third attempt to mislead and misguide the people of the world, Jammu and Kashmir and India. They are coming here for a third time to tell lies,” Congress leader and the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Ghulam, Nabi Azad, said.

Dr. Radha Kumar, from the Delhi Policy Group, said that a development agenda would not work without addressing the political issue.

“With all the unilateral decisions to abrogate the special status of the state, arresting all the mainstream leaders and putting the state in a lockdown, how are the government’s actions so far going to establish credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir?” Kumar told Arab News. “I think this visit is more for international consumption than anything else.”

Dr. Siddiq Wahid, a Kashmiri intellectual and academic, called the visit a “clear sign” that New Delhi had no idea what to do.

“No matter how many ministers you send to Jammu and Kashmir it’s not going to alter the ground situation, it’s not going to address the issue of alienation,” he told Arab News. “What issues will they talk about with people? The government lost the people’s trust long ago.”

The Himalayan region has experienced turmoil and violence for decades. It is claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, which have gone to war twice over it, and both rule parts of it. India’s portion has been plagued by separatist violence since the late 1980s.

Jammu-based Zafar Choudhary, a senior journalist and editor of The Dispatch newspaper, said Modi’s government was full of surprises. “There have never been so many surprises in Jammu and Kashmir as have come in the last two years,” he told Arab News. “There is no instance in the past when so many central ministers have visited a state in one go.”