All eyes on Kashmir after Indian PM extends olive branch

All eyes on Kashmir after Indian PM extends olive branch
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan comes a month after both countries announced a ceasefire along the disputed border in Kashmir. (AFP)
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Updated 24 March 2021

All eyes on Kashmir after Indian PM extends olive branch

All eyes on Kashmir after Indian PM extends olive branch
  • Pro-freedom Hurriyat group welcomes Modi’s appeal to Pakistan leader

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday sent a letter to his Pakistani counterpart on the occasion of Pakistan’s Republic Day, calling for “cordial relations” between the two neighbors in a move that marks a major thaw between New Delhi and Islamabad.

The letter addressed to Prime Minister Imran Khan comes a month after both countries announced a ceasefire along the disputed border in Kashmir.

“As a neighboring country, India desires cordial relations with the people of Pakistan,” Modi wrote in the letter, adding that “an environment of trust devoid of terror and hostility is imperative.”

The two countries came close to war in early 2019 after a terror attack in South Kashmir’s Pulwama region killed more than 50 paramilitary troops.

The Feb. 14 bombing was the single deadliest attack in the divided region, and escalated tensions between India and Pakistan.

In response, India launched an airstrike against suspected militant training camps inside Pakistan, claiming to have killed “a very large number” of militants. However, Pakistan said the strike only damaged three trees in a forest.

Islamabad responded by shooting down an Indian fighter plane and capturing the pilot, who was returned to India as a peace gesture.

India has long accused Pakistan of cultivating militant groups in a proxy war against New Delhi. Pakistan denies the charge.

The relationship between the two neighbors deteriorated further after the abrogation of Kashmir’s special status.

In a dramatic move in August 2019, India scrapped the region’s constitutional autonomy and withdrew Kashmiris’ exclusive rights before placing the entire territory under a curfew for several months, denying residents their fundamental rights, and detaining hundreds of political workers and activists.

New Delhi also divided the state into two union territories: Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.

HIGHLIGHT

‘As a neighboring country, India desires cordial relations with the people of Pakistan,’ Modi wrote in the letter, adding that ‘an environment of trust devoid of terror and hostility is imperative.’

A day after Modi’s letter to Khan, senior Kashmiri leaders welcomed the revival of the peace process on Wednesday, but added a caveat — bitterness between the two neighbors can be addressed only after the Kashmir issue is discussed.

“In Kashmir, we have to suffer as a consequence of a bitter relationship between the two countries,” Abdul Ghani Bhat, a leader of the pro-freedom All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) political alliance, told Arab News on Wednesday.

“If the relationship improves in terms of trade, commercial activities, political exchanges, this is going to help us a lot. When you are ought to resolve the disputes, you have to address problems which bedevil relations, you have to address the issues which led to the hostilities, bitterness; therefore you will have to address Kashmir,” he added.

Earlier on Tuesday, the APHC welcomed the “shift toward good neighborly relations between the two countries,” but warned that talks would bear fruit after an “atmosphere free of fear” was restored in the region.

“The APHC believes that unless on the ground in Kashmir an atmosphere free of fear, repression and human rights violations is not permitted, efforts at good neighborly relations will not bear fruit,” it said in a statement.

The alliance also demanded the “release of all political prisoners and youth in jails and under house detention” besides the end of the “policy of intimidation and harassment through agencies.”

India and Pakistan made sustained efforts for peace between 1998-2007, which was initiated by the current ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1998 when it assumed office for the first time under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Vajpayee and former Pakistani ruler Gen. Parvez Musharraf held regular peace talks, resulting in a ceasefire in 2003.

A year later, the Islamabad Joint Statement of 2004 was released, heralding the resumption of the peace process, and marking a decline in violence in Jammu and Kashmir.

The peace process continued under the leadership of former PM Manmohan Singh, who succeeded Vajpayee in 2004.

Singh and Musharraf signed the landmark Confidence Building Measures (CBM) pact allowing for trade and travel between divided Kashmir.

Both sides also signed a framework agreement that many believe could have provided a lasting solution to the Kashmiri conflict.

Despite a rupture in ties between the two countries after the 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai in 2008, which claimed the lives of more than 175 people, both the neighbors kept the channel for dialogue open.

“I am happy that this government, after a long time in whatever influence and pressure, has woken up to talks with Pakistan,” former foreign minister Yashwant Sinha told Arab News on Wednesday.

Sinha was the external affairs minister during Vajpayee’s rule and one of the key figures to initiate dialogue with Pakistan in 1998.

“We should have talks, normal relations with Pakistan,” added Sinha, who dissociated himself from the BJP after Modi became prime minister and joined the regional Trinamool Congress (TMC) recently.

Sinha said that despite the change in circumstances after the abrogation of Kashmir’s special status, the “solution lied in dialogue.”

“The solutions have to be found through dialogue, not through war, and the current Pakistani leadership, particularly military leadership, is talking sense about peace talks, and we should take advantage of it,” he told Arab News.

New Delhi-based academic and writer Radha Kumar, who has been a former interlocutor in Kashmir, described the latest development as the “opening of a new window of opportunity” and a “course corrective” by India in Kashmir.

“It seems the government has started on course correctives and so I imagine that if not the withdrawal of the abrogation of the special status, certainly, maximum self-rule to Kashmir will have to come back to the dialogue table between India and Pakistan,” Kumar, former director of the think tank Delhi Policy Group, told Arab News.

She added that a peace process is essential to contain violent anger in Kashmir.

“The government, I am sure, must have understood that the situation in Kashmir is not sustainable. To avert violent anger in the region, you need a peace process,” Kumar said.

The conflict in Kashmir dates back to the late 1940s when India and Pakistan won independence from Britain and fought two wars over the Himalayan region.


Sudan deputy leader on rare visit to Ethiopia

Sudan deputy leader on rare visit to Ethiopia
Updated 10 sec ago

Sudan deputy leader on rare visit to Ethiopia

Sudan deputy leader on rare visit to Ethiopia
KHARTOUM: Sudan’s second most powerful leader was heading to Ethiopia on Saturday, a rare visit by an official from Khartoum that comes amid border tensions, state media said.
Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, widely known as Hemeti, who is number two in Sudan’s ruling council, will be in Ethiopia on a two-day official visit to meet “several Ethiopian officials,” the SUNA news agency reported.
Daglo is head of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a much feared and powerful paramilitary unit that is accused of atrocities in the western region of Darfur.
Relations between Khartoum and Addis Ababa deteriorated due to a territorial conflict over the disputed Al-Fashaqa border region, where Ethiopian farmers cultivate fertile land claimed by Sudan.
There have been sporadic deadly clashes between the two sides in recent years.
Al-Fashaqa also borders Ethiopia’s troubled Tigray region, and tens of thousands of Ethiopian refugees have crossed into Sudan fleeing fighting.
In November, Sudan’s armed forces said six soldiers were killed in an attack by armed groups and militias linked to the Ethiopian military, a report denied by Addis Ababa, who blamed rebels from Tigray.
Sudan, along with Egypt, is also locked in a bitter dispute over Ethiopia’s mega-dam on the Blue Nile.
The two downstream countries, dependent on the river for most of their water, see Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam as an existential threat.
Both Khartoum and Addis Ababa are mired in crises.
Sudan has been rocked by weeks of mass demonstrations since an October 25 military takeover that derailed the country’s fragile transition to civilian rule, with at least 73 anti-coup protesters killed in a bloody crackdown.
Ethiopia still seeks to end a conflict that broke out in November 2020 following months of mounting rancour between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the former ruling party of the northernmost Tigray region, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The fighting has displaced millions, and, according to UN estimates, driven hundreds of thousands to the brink of starvation.

Former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad admitted to hospital

Former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad admitted to hospital
Updated 22 min 44 sec ago

Former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad admitted to hospital

Former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad admitted to hospital
  • Mahathir Mohamad was admitted to the cardiac care unit at the National Heart Institute but gave no details

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has been admitted to hospital, a spokesperson for him said on Saturday.
The spokesperson said Mahathir was admitted to the cardiac care unit at the National Heart Institute but gave no details.


Tokyo daily COVID-19 cases hit record for fourth straight day

Tokyo daily COVID-19 cases hit record for fourth straight day
Updated 29 min 2 sec ago

Tokyo daily COVID-19 cases hit record for fourth straight day

Tokyo daily COVID-19 cases hit record for fourth straight day
  • Case count jumps nearly 2.5 times from 4,561 lodged a week before

TOKYO: Tokyo recorded its highest number of daily COVID-19 infections for the fourth consecutive day on Saturday as the omicron variant continued to spread rapidly.
The capital city had 11,227 new coronavirus cases, the local government said, a day after reinstatement of curbs on mobility and business activity that are set to run until Feb. 13.
The case count jumped nearly 2.5 times from 4,561 lodged a week before and was higher than 9,699 confirmed cases on Friday.
Three people died of COVID-19 and 12 patients were in serious condition on Saturday, the Tokyo government also said.
The occupancy rate of hospital beds for coronavirus patients in Tokyo rose to 34.3 percent. A rise to 50 percent would warrant a state of emergency with more severe restrictions, local officials have said.
Osaka prefecture announced it had 7,375 infections on Saturday, hitting a record for a second straight day.


Fire in residential building kills 6, injures 15 in Mumbai

Fire in residential building kills 6, injures 15 in Mumbai
Updated 22 January 2022

Fire in residential building kills 6, injures 15 in Mumbai

Fire in residential building kills 6, injures 15 in Mumbai
  • The fire was caused by a short-circuit in an air conditioner in one of the apartments
  • Nearly two dozen fire engines extinguished the blaze and controlled the smoke after a two-hour effort

NEW DELHI: A major fire in a 19-story residential building killed at least six people and injured 15 others on Saturday in Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital, officials said.
The fire was caused by a short-circuit in an air conditioner in one of the apartments, Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar said.
Residents said the fire started on the 15th floor and a big column of black smoke soon enveloped the building. More than 90 people escaped the building on their own or helped by neighbors, they said.
Ganesh Purnaik, a spokesman for the city government, said the fire left six people dead and 15 hospitalized with injuries.
Four of the injured were in critical condition, said police officer Saurabh Tripathi.
Nearly two dozen fire engines extinguished the blaze and controlled the smoke after a two-hour effort, media reports said. Firefighters rushed the injured to two nearby hospitals.
Pednekar said some of the injured needed oxygen support because they had inhaled smoke.
Fires are common in India, where building laws and safety norms are often flouted by builders and residents.
In August, a fire killed eight coronavirus patients at a hospital in Ahmedabad, a major city in Gujarat state. In December 2018, a late-night fire in a Mumbai restaurant killed 15 people.

Related


1 NYPD officer killed, 1 severely injured in Harlem shooting

1 NYPD officer killed, 1 severely injured in Harlem shooting
Updated 22 January 2022

1 NYPD officer killed, 1 severely injured in Harlem shooting

1 NYPD officer killed, 1 severely injured in Harlem shooting
  • Call for federal authorities to do more to round up stolen guns like the one used in Friday’s shooting

NEW YORK: A New York City police officer was killed and another critically wounded Friday night while answering a call about an argument between a woman and her adult son, officials said, making four officers shot in the city in as many days.
Just three weeks into their jobs, Mayor Eric Adams — a former police captain himself — and Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell stood before the media at a Harlem hospital, denouncing the spate of violence against the New York Police Department.
“Countless officers lined this hallway after carrying him in and grieve for their brother while praying with everything they have for the other” officer, Sewell said. “I am struggling to find the words to express the tragedy we are enduring. We’re mourning, and we’re angry.”
Adams said, “This was just not an attack on these brave officers. This was an attack on the city of New York.”
Adams called for federal authorities to do more to round up stolen guns like the one used in Friday’s shooting inside a Harlem apartment.
“There are no gun manufacturers in New York City,” he said. “We don’t make guns here. How are we removing thousands of guns off the street and they still find their way into New York City, in the hands of people who are killers?”
Authorities said the officers, along with a third officer, went to the apartment on 135th Street after a call came in from a woman needing help with her son, identified by police as Lashawn J. McNeil, 47.
Authorities said the officers spoke with the woman and another son, but there was no mention of a weapon. Then two of them walked from the front of the apartment down a narrow, 30-foot (9-meter) hallway.
NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig said McNeil swung open a bedroom door and opened fire at the officers, striking them.
The officer who was killed was identified as 22-year-old Jason Rivera, who joined the force in November 2020, and the wounded officer as Wilbert Mora, 27, who’s been with the NYPD for four years.
As McNeil tried to flee, a third officer who’d stayed with McNeil’s mother in the front of the apartment shot at McNeil and wounded him in the head and arm, Essig said.
McNeil is alive and hospitalized in critical condition, NYPD spokesperson Lt. John Grimpel said, correcting earlier reports that he had been killed. Sewell and Adams did not take questions at the hospital press conference.
McNeil’s last known address is in Allentown, Pennsylvania, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) west of New York City.
McNeil was on probation for a 2003 drug conviction in New York City. He also had several out of state arrests. In 1998, he was arrested in South Carolina for unlawfully carrying a pistol, but records show the matter was later dismissed. In 2002, he was arrested in Pennsylvania for assaulting a police officer, Essig said.
Police said the gun used in Friday night’s shooting, a .45-caliber Glock with a high-capacity magazine capable of holding up to 40 extra rounds, had been stolen in Baltimore in 2017.
Friday night’s shooting happened in a street-level apartment in a six-story apartment building on a block between two iconic Harlem avenues: Malcolm X Boulevard and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.
It came three nights after an officer was wounded in the leg in the Bronx during a struggle with a teenager who also shot himself. On Thursday, a narcotics detective was shot in the leg on Staten Island.
Under Adams, the NYPD has reinstated a plainclothes anti-crime unit aimed at getting guns off the streets. The unit had been disbanded in 2020 over concerns it accounted for a disproportionate number of shootings and complaints.
The NYPD has also partnered with prosecutors, city and federal agencies in recent months on a task force that meets daily and works to track gun violence, accelerate gun tracing and build cases against shooters and gun traffickers.