India celebrates independence, Kashmiris demand their own

Jammu and Kashmir state Governor Satyapal Malik, center, salutes during India's Independence Day parade in Srinagar, India, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. (AP)
Updated 16 August 2019
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India celebrates independence, Kashmiris demand their own

  • Srinagar city remains completely shut down, with the government continuing a strict prohibitory order in the state capital for the 12th consecutive day
  • Paramilitary personnel have been stationed and barbed wire has been placed throughout the city, making it difficult to move from one locality to another without permission

SRINAGAR: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech on Thursday described the scrapping of Article 370 as a significant step toward Indian integration.
In his address to the nation, Modi accused past governments of “shelving the decision to remove Article 370 in order to serve their political interests.”
He criticized opposition leaders for questioning the decision to repeal the article that gave the state of Jammu and Kashmir special autonomous status.
“If the opposition thinks that scrapping Article 370 is a bad political move, why they did not make it a permanent part of the constitution?
“The opposition was doing politics, they didn’t have the courage to take such a drastic decision in the past, and whatever decision I have taken was done in the national interest. I don’t think of politics but only the national interest,” said Modi in his speech, delivered from the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi.
He added that the article “promoted militancy and separatism, besides patronizing the dynastic politics and all round corruption in the state.”
In Srinagar, the event to celebrate India’s Independence Day was a governmental event with little participation from the local population.
Srinagar city remains completely shut down, with the government continuing a strict prohibitory order in the state capital for the 12th consecutive day. Paramilitary personnel have been stationed and barbed wire has been placed throughout the city, making it difficult to move from one locality to another without permission.

With mobile networks shutdown and a complete clampdown of communications, it is difficult to hear about what is happening across the city.
The local administration brought students and a cultural troupe from Jammu and other neighboring states to participate in the celebrations held at Sher-i-Kashmir stadium. The sprawling stadium was mostly deserted, with only media, police and paramilitary personnel present.
The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) brought in some workers from the Hindu-dominated Jammu and neighboring states.
Pragya Singh, a PhD student from Jammu university, was brought in along with 25 other students to participate in the cultural activities to mark Independence Day in Srinagar.
“I am from Bihar (an eastern Indian state) but I have studied at Jammu University for the last five years,” said Singh, 28.
“I have come here to perform a Kashmiri dance with other students. I recently learnt it from my dance teacher,” added the student.
She told Arab News that “after speaking with Kashmiri people over the last few days, I realize that their anger at the article being scrapped is justified. If you attack and deprive someone of their identity they will react with full force.
“The government should have taken the opinion of the people before making such a major decision.”
Chitra Meena, from the western state of Rajasthan, has also been brought in to perform a Kashmiri dance.
“I feel sad that there isn’t a girl from the valley to take part in the event. This shows how alienated Kashmir is from the rest of India,” Meena said.
The girls were stopped from interacting with the media by the local administration.
“The anger of the local people won’t last long. They will realize the importance of the scrapping of Article 370. By being part of the national mainstream, Kashmir will enjoy immense benefits,” said Ashwani Kumar Chrumgoo, the BJP’s spokesperson on Kashmir affairs.
“I have come here from Jammu to see the national flag flying in Srinagar. My message is for peace, integration and a better future,” Chrumgoo added.
Many people in the valley are unconvinced by Chrumgoo’s sentiments.
Mohammed Hussain, an entrepreneur based in Srinagar, said: “Tell me, what should we celebrate? The snatching away of our democratic rights? Should we celebrate the complete clampdown on our communication and mobility? Should we celebrate the presence of the military in our state?”
He added: “If India is an independent nation, Kashmir was also a sovereign nation before 1947. India’s Independence Day doesn’t mean anything to us, we are now an occupied nation. We want independence for ourselves.”
Abdul Majid, a fruit salesman, said “India is celebrating its Independence Day by crushing us. Our leaders have been arrested, people have been imprisoned in their homes, we have not been allowed to offer Eid prayers in our mosques, what kind of independence this so-called democratic India is celebrating.”
Abdul Rasheed, 17, said “what future will we have in India now after the scrapping of Article 370? Our schools have been closed for more than two weeks. The atmosphere around me has become so tense that as a young guy I can’t think of a future in this situation.”
Javed Dar, a businessman in the Shoura area of Srinagar, said that “the number of troops in Srinagar is bigger than the population of the city. Is this a free India?
“People are angry. We don’t want to go with India nor with Pakistan. We want our own independence.”


Venezuela’s rival factions take power struggle to UN after talks fail

Updated 19 September 2019

Venezuela’s rival factions take power struggle to UN after talks fail

  • Guaido is seeking to get more countries, especially the European Union, to implement sanctions on Venezuela
  • Maduro calls Guaido a US puppet seeking to oust him in a coup

CARACAS/WASHINGTON: Venezuela’s rival political factions will take their power struggle to New York next week, where representatives of President Nicolas Maduro and opposition chief Juan Guaido will each try to convince a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations that their boss is the country’s legitimate head of state.
The United States and more than 50 other countries recognize Guaido, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, as the rightful president. Guaido in January invoked the constitution to assume a rival presidency to Maduro, arguing the socialist president’s May 2018 re-election was a sham.
But the 193-member UN General Assembly still recognizes Maduro, who retains the support of the UN Security Council’s veto-wielding permanent members Russia and China, setting the stage for the two sides to air their public grievances as they battle for international backing.
A round of negotiations brokered by Norway in recent months, aimed at peacefully resolving the crisis, has failed.
Guaido is seeking to get more countries, especially the European Union, to implement sanctions on Venezuela, as the United States has done.
Maduro, who has overseen a collapse of the OPEC nation’s once-prosperous economy and has been accused by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights of rights violations, wants to heap pressure on the United States to lift sanctions on state oil company PDVSA and members of his inner circle.
Critics say his government’s decisions this week to free a jailed opposition lawmaker and reform Venezuela’s electoral body, long accused of bias, were aimed at improving Maduro’s image before the UN gathering.
“They want to use the UN meeting to wash their face, because they are not reaching any real solutions for the Venezuelan people,” Carlos Valero, an opposition lawmaker who sits on the National Assembly’s foreign affairs committee, said in an interview on Wednesday.
Maduro calls Guaido a US puppet seeking to oust him in a coup, and blames Washington’s sanctions for Venezuela’s economic woes. Maduro himself said he will not attend the UN gathering, but he tasked two cabinet members with presenting a petition condemning the sanctions to Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
“The UN Secretary General and all the UN agencies should raise their voice to condemn the aggression Venezuela is being subjected to, to condemn the illegal blockade,” Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told reporters in Geneva last Friday. “We believe that a lot more can be done from the United Nations.”
’Until Maduro is gone’
Guaido has not yet decided whether he will attend, according to his US envoy Carlos Vecchio. Julio Borges, an exiled opposition lawmaker recently named Guaido’s chief diplomat, will be in New York for side events aimed at spotlighting Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis and Maduro’s alleged support for armed rebels in Colombia.
The events include a likely meeting of the signatories of the Rio Treaty, invoked earlier this month by a dozen members of the Organization of American States (OAS), including the United States. The treaty is a Cold War-era mutual defense pact that the countries said they had invoked in response to what they called Maduro’s threat to regional stability. The OAS, unlike the UN, recognizes Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader.
Maduro’s government denies supporting the Colombian rebels and says the Rio Treaty is a precursor to military intervention.
In April, US Vice President Mike Pence called on the UN to revoke the credentials of Maduro’s government and recognize Guaido, but Washington has taken no action to push the measure at the General Assembly. Diplomats said it was unlikely Washington would get the support needed.
Both Washington and Venezuela’s opposition are seeking to counter perceptions that their efforts to oust Maduro have stalled.
Though differences over Iran and Afghanistan policy were the main reasons for US President Donald Trump’s firing of his hawkish national security adviser John Bolton last week, Trump had also grown increasingly impatient with the failure of sanctions and diplomatic pressure to push Maduro from power.
Despite Trump’s vows that all options were on the table, he had resisted Bolton’s push for more military planning, according to a person familiar with the matter. Trump’s aides have made clear that he is likely to impose further sanctions but the economic weapons at Washington’s disposal appear to be dwindling.
US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on Tuesday that the United States continued to stand with Guaido and that sanctions “will not be lifted until Maduro is gone.”
“We look forward to coming together with regional partners to discuss the multilateral economic and political options we can employ to the threat to the security of the region that Maduro represents,” she said.