India moves to divide Jammu and Kashmir state despite protests, attacks

The Indian government sent more troops into the Kashmir valley where separatists have been fighting against Indian rule for decades. (File/AFP)
Updated 30 October 2019

India moves to divide Jammu and Kashmir state despite protests, attacks

  • The state will be directly ruled from New Delhi after the division
  • Broadband and mobile internet connections remain unavailable to most Kashmiris

SRINAGAR, India: India will formally split up disputed Jammu and Kashmir state into two federal territories on Thursday, aiming to tighten its grip on the restive region that has been in the grip of a harsh security clampdown for nearly three months.
Street protests against the measures have erupted sporadically, while militants have killed about a dozen people from outside the state in recent weeks.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government withdrew Kashmir’s autonomy in August but in addition it also announced the division of the state into two territories to be directly ruled from New Delhi — one consisting of Jammu and Kashmir and the other the remote Buddhist enclave of Ladakh. At the same time it poured thousands of more troops into the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley where separatists have been fighting against Indian rule for decades, and made sweeping arrests to prevent any outbreak of violence.
The government also imposed severe restrictions on travel and cut telephone and Internet lines. Some measures have been scaled back but a security lockdown is still largely in place and broadband and mobile Internet connections remain unavailable to most Kashmiris.
Schools and colleges are empty and most shops, restaurants and hotels shut. Hundreds of people, including mainstream political leaders and separatists fighting for Kashmir’s secession from India, remain in custody for fear that they could whip up mass protests that have in the past turned violent.
Wajahat Habibullah, a former bureaucrat who served in Kashmir and traveled to the region’s main city last month, said Kashmiris felt humiliated to lose their statehood.
“Whatever the attitude of (federal) governments in the past, they at least felt they had something of their own. Now, there is a kind of feeling of having lost whatever freedom they had,” he said.
On Tuesday, suspected militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir shot dead five construction workers who had come to work from eastern India.
Officials said the killings appeared to be part of a campaign to deter outsiders from working in Kashmir. Truckers involved in the apple trade were targeted earlier in the month, also in the southern part of Kashmir, a hotbed of militant activity.
Crowds have also been gathering this week in the streets of Srinagar, the biggest city in Kashmir, and elsewhere, throwing stones at security forces in protest against the continuing clampdown.
New territories
On Thursday, G. C. Murmu, a former bureaucrat from Modi’s home state of Gujarat, will be sworn in as the first lieutenant governor of the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the government said.
Another former civil servant, Radha Krishna Mathur, will take office as the lieutenant governor of Ladakh, the Buddhist- dominated high altitude region that has long sought to disentangle itself from Kashmir, on grounds that the turmoil there had hurt its own growth prospects.
The Modi administration is hoping to ramp up tourism and infrastructure investment in Ladakh, known for its snow capped peaks and rocky desert plateaus, and is also an area of dispute with China which lays claims to parts of it.
Within the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, there are expectations that the takeover by the federal government will lead to development and shift the focus away from the Kashmir valley, where the insurgency is centered.
“There are three parts to this story, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. The problem is confined to Kashmir and that too a handful of districts. Why should the rest of the state suffer,” said a top official in New Delhi involved in the political strategy to deal with Kashmir.

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US, Taliban sign historic deal on Afghanistan's future

Updated 2 min 17 sec ago

US, Taliban sign historic deal on Afghanistan's future

  • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the Taliban to "keep your promises to cut ties with Al-Qaeda"
  • The Doha accord was drafted over a tempestuous year of dialogue marked by the abrupt cancellation of the effort by Trump in September

DOHA: The United States signed a landmark deal with the Taliban on Saturday, laying out a timetable for a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan within 14 months as it seeks an exit from its longest-ever war.
The agreement is expected to lead to a dialogue between the Taliban and the Kabul government that, if successful, could ultimately see an end to the grinding 18-year conflict.
Taliban fighter-turned-dealmaker Mullah Baradar signed the accord alongside Washington's chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad, at a gilded desk in a conference room in a luxury Doha hotel.
The pair then shook hands, as people in the room shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest).
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looked on as the two inked the deal, after urging the insurgents to "keep your promises to cut ties with Al-Qaeda".
On the eve of the signing, President Donald Trump urged the Afghan people to embrace the chance for a new future.
"If the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan live up to these commitments, we will have a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home," he said.
But the position of the Afghan government, which has been excluded from direct US-Taliban talks, remains unclear and the country is gripped by a fresh political crisis amid contested election results.
The Doha accord was drafted over a tempestuous year of dialogue marked by the abrupt cancellation of the effort by Trump in September.
The signing comes after a week-long, partial truce that has mostly held across Afghanistan, aimed at building confidence between the warring parties and showing the Taliban can control their forces.
The United States and its allies will withdraw all their forces from Afghanistan within 14 months if the Taliban abide by the terms of the accord.
After an initial reduction of troops to 8,600 within 135 days of Saturday's signing, the US and its partners "will complete withdrawal of all remaining forces from Afghanistan" within 14 months.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg heralded the agreement as a "first step to lasting peace".
"The way to peace is long and hard. We have to be prepared for setbacks, spoilers, there is no easy way to peace but this is an important first step," the Norwegian former prime minister told reporters in Kabul.
Since the US-led invasion that ousted the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks, America has spent more than $1 trillion in fighting and rebuilding in Afghanistan.
About 2,400 US soldiers have been killed, along with unknown tens of thousands of Afghan troops, Taliban fighters and Afghan civilians.
The insurgents said they had halted all hostilities Saturday in honour of the agreement.
"Since the deal is being signed today, and our people are happy and celebrating it, we have halted all our military operations across the country," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.
Any insurgent pledge to guarantee Afghanistan is never again used by extremist movements such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh to plot attacks abroad will be key to the deal's viability.
The Taliban's sheltering of Al-Qaeda was the main reason for the US invasion following the 9/11 attacks.
The group, which had risen to power in the 1990s in the chaos of civil war, suffered a swift defeat at the hands of the US and its allies. They retreated before re-emerging to lead a deadly insurgency against the new government in Kabul.
After the NATO combat mission ended in December 2014, the bulk of Western forces withdrew from the country, leaving it in an increasingly precarious position.
While Afghans are eager to see an end to the violence, experts say any prospective peace will depend on the outcome of talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government.
But with President Ashraf Ghani and rival Abdullah Abdullah at loggerheads over contested election results, few expect the pair to present a united front, unlike the Taliban, who would then be in a position to take the upper hand in negotiations.

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