India sends 36 ministers to restive Kashmir on charm offensive

Kashmir 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. (Reuters/File
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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.”

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US, Russia among naval powers heading to Manila for global meet

Updated 10 min 33 sec ago

US, Russia among naval powers heading to Manila for global meet

  • Meet to be “a promising platform to enhance naval cooperation and establish maritime security initiatives”

MANILA: Warships and navy delegates from around the world will converge in Manila for a three-day event in May as the Philippines hosts the International Fleet Review (IFR) for the first time. America, Russia and China have all confirmed their presence at the event, so the IFR will bring together naval powers whose encounters at sea have often been fraught with tension.

The IFR is part of the Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS), which will take place from May 19 to 21.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, the Philippine Navy’s Flag Officer-in-Command Rear Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo talked about the significance of the IFR and WPNS in the context of evolving maritime geopolitics and the increasing complexity of its challenges.

“These are confidence-building activities that show navies can work together for a common cause,” Bacordo said.

He described the WPNS, a biennial meeting of navies bordering the Pacific region, as “a promising platform to enhance naval cooperation and establish maritime security initiatives.”

Bacordo added that the WPNS, in particular, aims to build trust and confidence between navies by providing a framework to enable “the discussion of maritime issues of mutual interest, the exchange of information, the practice and demonstration of capabilities, and the exchange of personnel.”

“It is more than just a navy protecting (its) own country, but rather navies protecting the world,” he said.

As for the IFR, Bacordo said this was a major diplomatic event which will show that “these ships can exist in one space without causing tensions.”

He explained: “When they arrive here, the main program will be the symposium for the chiefs of navies. Then after a two-day discussion, on day three we expect to have the IFR, which will be held at Manila Bay, in the vicinity of Corregidor and Bataan.”

Navies from 24 nations, including Australia, Brunei, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, France, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the United States, and Vietnam, as well as observer countries including Pakistan and Myanmar are expected to participate in the three-day event.

While the 24 member states are all expected to send delegates to the event, 14 of them — including Russia, the US, Vietnam and Thailand — have committed to sending ships.

On Monday, Russia’s Ambassador to Manila Igor Khovaev confirmed to Arab News that Moscow will be deploying “a detachment of Russian navy ships and a submarine” for the IFR — marking the first time a Russian submarine will be in the Philippines.

“Yes, (it will be) the first time — but as partners and friends. I would be happy to invite you to visit the Russian submarine just to communicate with the Russian seamen and (to) see that all of them are normal, friendly people,” Khovaev said at the reception for Russian Armed Forces Day on Monday.

The US is reportedly considering sending one of its aircraft carriers to take part, while China is also expected to deploy vessels for the event, Bacordo said.