Schools deserted in Indian Kashmir as parents fear more unrest

School buses are seen parked in the campus of a closed school in Srinagar on August 19, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 20 August 2019

Schools deserted in Indian Kashmir as parents fear more unrest

  • Protests began after the Aug. 5 decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to withdraw Kashmir’s special status and integrate it fully into India, with equal rights for all Indians to buy property there and compete for government jobs

SRINAGAR, India: Schools reopened in Indian Kashmir’s main city on Monday but most classrooms were empty as parents kept their children home, fearing unrest over the government’s decision two weeks ago to revoke the region’s autonomy.
About 200 primary schools were set to open in Srinagar in a sign of normality returning to Muslim majority Jammu and Kashmir where authorities started to ease restrictions on movement last week.
In Shopian, in the militant hotbed of south Kashmir, a dozen schools were open on Monday but attendance was zero, Kashmir’s director for school education Younis Malik said.
Parents said their children would stay home until cellular networks are restored and they can be in contact with them.
“How can we risk the lives of our children?” said Gulzar Ahmad, a father of two children enrolled in a school in the city’s Batamaloo district where protests have occurred.
“Troops have arrested minor children in the last two weeks and several children were injured in clashes,” he said. “Our children are safe inside their homes. If they go to school, who can guarantee their safety?“
Authorities have previously denied reports of mass arrests.
Srinagar’s top administrative officer, Shahid Iqbal Choudhary, said on Sunday that adequate security would be provided for schools. “I will take responsibility for any untoward incident,” he added.
Protests began after the Aug. 5 decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to withdraw Kashmir’s special status and integrate it fully into India, with equal rights for all Indians to buy property there and compete for government jobs.
Critics said the decision alienated many Kashmiris and would add fuel to a 30-year armed revolt in the Himalayan territory that Pakistan also claims.
Paramilitary police in riot gear and carrying assault rifles stood behind steel barricades and coils of razor wire in Srinagar’s old quarter to deter any repeat of weekend protests.
In dense neighborhoods such as Batamaloo, youths set up makeshift barricades to block security forces from entering. In Teilbal in south-eastern Srinagar, a Reuters witness saw large rocks, logs, and barbed wire strung across a road leading into the area.
Authorities reimposed curbs on movement in parts of Srinagar on Sunday after overnight clashes between residents and police in which dozens were injured, two senior officials and witnesses said. 
The movement restrictions were relaxed in parts of Srinagar on Monday, with substantial traffic on some major thoroughfares. Armed paramilitary remained deployed, though their distribution in many areas was thinner than in preceding weeks.
On Monday evening, scores of people strolled along the banks of the picturesque Dal Lake, a popular tourist destination ringed by Himalayan mountains.
LOW ATTENDANCE
At Srinagar’s civil secretariat, the center of the state’s administration system, 98% of staff were in attendance on Monday, government spokeswoman Syed Sehrish Asgar told a press briefing.
But a state government official who asked not to be named said only 1,830 of the secretariat’s more than 3,800 staff had actually come in.
Reuters journalists visited two dozen schools in Srinagar on Monday. Some schools were lightly staffed and classrooms deserted. Gates at other schools were locked.
Only one student showed up at Presentation Convent Higher Secondary School, which has an enrolment of 1,000 pupils, and went home, said a school official.
There were no students at the barricaded Burn Hall school in one of the city’s high security zones.
“How can students come to classes in such a volatile situation? The government is turning these little children into cannon fodder,” a teacher said, among a handful of staff who turned up for work.
CROSS BORDER FIRING
New Delhi’s decision on Kashmir has heightened tensions with its neighbor and rival nuclear power, Pakistan, and triggered cross-border exchanges of fire.
In the latest incident, two civilians were killed in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir by Indian soldiers firing across the border, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said, adding that it had summoned India’s deputy commissioner in Islamabad to protest.
There was no immediate comment from India which has previously accused Pakistan of trying to whip up tensions to draw global attention.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said at a press conference late on Monday that Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan had discussed the Kashmir situation on a call with US President Donald Trump and called on him and America to “play a role in resolving the current crises.”
Separately, India said Modi also spoke with Trump on Monday. It said Modi had stressed to Trump the importance of creating a regional environment free from terror that eschews cross-border terrorism without exception.
Last month, Trump touched off a storm in India after he said Modi had asked him if he would mediate on Kashmir. India denied ever asking for such assistance. India has long bristled at any suggestion of third-party involvement in tackling the Kashmir issue.
Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said on Sunday there would be no talks with Pakistan until it acted against anti-India militant groups operating from its soil.
Pakistan has in the past denied the allegation and says it only gives moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people in their struggle for self determination.
The scenic mountain region is divided between India, which rules the populous Kashmir Valley and the Hindu-dominated region around Jammu city, Pakistan, which controls a wedge of territory in the west, and China, which holds a thinly populated high-altitude area in the north. 


Kim Jong Un invites Trump to Pyongyang

Updated 33 min 5 sec ago

Kim Jong Un invites Trump to Pyongyang

  • Invitation extended in an undisclosed personal letter sent to Trump on Aug. 15

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has invited US President Donald Trump to Pyongyang in his latest letter to the American head of state,  South Korea’s top diplomat said on Monday.

“I heard detailed explanations from US officials that there was such a letter a while ago,” Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa told a  parliamentary session. “But I’m not in a position to confirm what’s in the letter or when it was delivered.”

The foreign minister’s remarks followed reports by a local newspaper, JoongAng Ilbo, which said that Kim’s invitation was extended in an undisclosed personal letter sent to Trump on Aug. 15.

If true, the invitation was made as diplomats of the two governments were in a tug-of-war over the resumption of working-level talks for the North’s denuclearization efforts.

During a surprise meeting at the Korean border village of Panmunjom on June 30, Trump and Kim pledged that working-level nuclear disarmament talks would resume within a month, but no such talks have been held,  with both sides indulging in a blame game instead.

“We are very curious about the background of the American top  diplomat’s thoughtless remarks and we will watch what calculations he has,” North Korea’s first vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui said on Aug. 30 in a statement carried by the North’s official Central News Agency (KCNA). He was referring to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments terming Pyongyang’s rocket launches as “rogue.”

However, the tone has changed significantly with the communist state recently offering to return to dialogue with Washington “at a time and place agreed late in September.”

“I want to believe that the US side would come out with an alternative based on a calculation method that serves both sides’ interests and is acceptable to us,” Choe said on Aug. 30.

On Monday, the director-general of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s department of American affairs said working-level denuclearization talks will likely take place “in a few weeks” but demanded security guarantees and sanctions’ relief as prerequisites.

“The discussion of denuclearization may be possible when threats and hurdles endangering our system security and obstructing our  development are clearly removed beyond all doubt,” the statement said. 

HIGHLIGHT

It’s not clear whether the US president has responded to the invitation, thought he has touted his personal relationship with the young North Korean dictator.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in was upbeat about the early resumption of nuclear talks.

“North Korea-US working-level dialogue will resume soon,” he said, citing an “unchanged commitment” to trust and peace by the leaders of both Koreas and the US. 

The working-level meeting will serve as a “force to advance the peace process on the Korean Peninsula,” he added.

Moon is scheduled to meet Trump on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly session in New York next week.

“It will be an opportunity to share opinions and gather wisdom with Trump on the direction of further development of South Korea-US  relations,” he said.

The White House offered no immediate comment.

It’s not clear whether Trump responded to Kim’s invitation to Pyongyang, but the US commander-in-chief has touted his personal relationship with the young North Korean dictator, who oversaw the test-firings of short-range ballistic missiles and multiple launch rockets more than half a dozen times since late July.

While none of the projectiles are a direct threat to the US continent they still pose threats to US and its allied forces in South Korea and Japan.

“Kim Jong-un has been, you know, pretty straight with me, I think,” Trump told reporters on August 24 before flying off to meet with world leaders at the G7 in France. “And we’re going to see what’s going on. We’re going to see what’s happening. He likes testing missiles.”

Experts say the apparent firing of US National Security Adviser John Bolton has also boosted chances of fresh negotiations with the North, which had long criticized him for his hawkish approach toward the regime.

“The displacement of a ‘bad guy’ could be construed as a negotiating tactic to seek a breakthrough in the stalemate of nuclear talks. It’s a show of a will to engage the counterpart in a friendlier manner from the perspective of negotiation science,” Park Sang-ki, an adjunct professor at the department of business management at Sejong University in Seoul, told Arab News.