A year into lockdown, ‘things have gone worse in Kashmir’

A year into lockdown, ‘things have gone worse in Kashmir’
Indian security personnel during a lockdown imposed by the authorities as a preventive measure against the surge in COVID-19 cases in Srinagar. (AFP)
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Updated 25 July 2020

A year into lockdown, ‘things have gone worse in Kashmir’

A year into lockdown, ‘things have gone worse in Kashmir’
  • Alienation in the region is having a ‘disastrous economic and political impact’

NEW DELHI: Anger and alienation in Kashmir are having a disastrous economic, social and political impact, a New Delhi-based rights body says in a report released a year into India’s lockdown of the region.

On Aug. 5 last year, New Delhi annulled Article 370 of the country’s constitution, which had guaranteed Kashmir’s special autonomous status and granted locals exclusive land and job rights.
The move sparked widespread anger, which was met with a brutal response from India’s military, detention of political activists and civilians, suspensions of all democratic rights and a media blackout of the valley.
The central government also divided the state into the Union Territory of Ladakh and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir — directly governed by a New Delhi representative.
“In this one year, everything has become worse. The alienation is worse, anger is stronger, cynicism is more pronounced and the sense that India wants to quash and humiliate Kashmiris is stronger,” Dr. Radha Kumar, one of the 21 high-profile activists who prepared the report, told Arab News on Friday.
Kumar cited new measures taken by New Delhi — such as a domicile law where outsiders can become residents of the region, a media policy to control the regional media and a building law allowing the military to buy land and make a permanent structure — that “are fueling strong resentment among people.”

BACKGROUND

• On Aug. 5 last year, New Delhi annulled Article 370 of the country’s constitution, which had guaranteed Kashmir’s special autonomous status and granted locals exclusive land and job rights.

• The move sparked widespread anger, which was met with a brutal response from India’s military, detention of political activists and civilians, suspensions of all democratic rights and a media blackout of the valley.

• The central government also divided the state into the Union Territory of Ladakh and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir — directly governed by a New Delhi representative.

The 70-page report, “Jammu and Kashmir: The Impact of Lockdowns on Human Rights,” was released on Tuesday by Forum for Human Rights. The rights body, comprising prominent jurists, former diplomats and academicians, said that the economic, social and political impact of India’s actions “have been disastrous.”
“There has been a near-total alienation of the people of the Kashmir valley from the Indian state and people,” the report reads, adding: “There has been denial of the right to bail and fair and speedy trial, coupled with misuse of draconian legislation, such as the Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), to stifle dissent.”
Khurram Parvez, a Srinagar-based activist, told Arab News that the human rights situation has deteriorated.
“All civil and political rights of people completely stand curbed. Only those affiliated to the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) can speak or organize political activity. Others, even if they are pro-India parties, continue to be gagged,” he said, adding that encounters, arrests and torture “continue unabated.”
“The BJP had claimed that the human rights situation will improve post the abrogation of Article 370, but we see it’s not at all a priority for the government.”
According to Parvez, the situation is becoming more complicated as China is now a “stakeholder” in the Kashmir dispute due to its border claims against India.
Kashmiris say that they are increasingly frightened of speaking up.
“It’s almost a year since my uncle was picked up from his home and put in a jail in a faraway place in Agra in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. What was his crime we don’t know,” Shabeer Ahmad, a resident of Lelhara village in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, told Arab News.
“There is so much fear among people that they are afraid to speak their mind or question the authorities lest they are arrested or eliminated.”


World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row

Updated 4 min 19 sec ago

World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row

World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row
  • Letter sent to Afghan president comes amid corruption claims linked to new government controls on public-private partnerships

KABUL: The World Bank has threatened to close the taps on $200 million worth of aid to Afghanistan if Kabul fails to share banking sector data.
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance on Wednesday said that the World Bank had warned the country’s President Ashraf Ghani that it would halt its assistance if the information was not forthcoming.
In a letter dated Nov. 23, Henry G. Kerali, the World Bank’s country director for Afghanistan, mentioned issues that “remain to be resolved” and “may impact” the bank’s capacity to disburse the full amount of $200 million.
The issues included the World Bank’s inability to obtain banking data from Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), the country’s central bank.
“The letter has actually been addressed to the president, and copies of it have been sent to relevant offices. The issue will be resolved in the coming week,” finance ministry spokesman, Shamroz Khan Masjidi, told Arab News.
“In the past, we would have shared a number of non-sensitive banking data with the World Bank. Now, a misunderstanding has appeared with the central bank which has not shared it with it (the World Bank) … the issue will be resolved.” The World Bank’s Kabul office declined to comment on whether the letter, a copy of which has been seen by Arab News, was a warning to Ghani. In an equivocal statement issued on Wednesday, the lender said: “No letter from the World Bank to the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has been released to the public.” Ghani’s spokesman declined comment.
The World Bank’s purported threat comes amid complaints over increasing corruption after the presidential palace in recent months took control of public-private partnerships (PPP) from the Ministry of Finance through amendments to the country’s PPP law.
Reliant on international assistance, Afghanistan is considered one of the most corrupt countries.
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the US government’s leading oversight authority on Afghanistan reconstruction, in a letter on Nov. 11 said that the Afghan government “often makes paper reforms, such as drafting regulations or holding meetings, rather than concrete actions that would reduce corruption, such as arresting powerful actors.” Even Ghani’s brother, Hashmat Ghani, spoke against the PPP law move. “Taking away PPP office and authority from the finance ministry has been a mistake. It should be reversed immediately,” he said in a tweet on Thursday.
Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan and International Monetary Fund adviser, said the World Bank’s letter was “not a good signal” for Afghanistan.
“The reason for which it is interrupting the payment is that the president wants to move a number of important state-owned enterprises and the management of PPP to the palace where there is no oversight of the parliament at the palace as opposed to the ministry (Finance Ministry),” he told Arab News.
“So, this is how corruption creeps in, and the international community is worried about what is going on and the World Bank expresses it in a diplomatic language in this letter.” Sediq Ahmad Usmani, a lawmaker from the parliamentary financial affairs committee, said: “The executive power, particularly, the presidency, has created another government of its special circle which deals with appointments and budget’s expenses. All the power lies with the president and without his knowledge they cannot do anything.” “This has been our concern and we have shared it with the donors and have asked them to prevent such wayward acts,” he added.
Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, denied the existence of any “circle” under the president. “These MPs, I am sure they know the whole process and the authority of government officials and the president on budget spending. Budget issues must not be politicized.
“The government sends details of the budget to the parliament in a very transparent way and they have the legal right to oversee the spending. It is an open budget system, there is no circle.”