Passive resistance as Kashmir marks three years without autonomy

Passive resistance as Kashmir marks three years without autonomy in ‘forced silence’ Indian government revoked Kashmir’s constitutional autonomy on Aug. 5, 2019. (AFP)
Passive resistance as Kashmir marks three years without autonomy in ‘forced silence’ Indian government revoked Kashmir’s constitutional autonomy on Aug. 5, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 05 August 2022

Passive resistance as Kashmir marks three years without autonomy

Passive resistance as Kashmir marks three years without autonomy
  • Government in New Delhi revoked Kashmir’s constitutional autonomy on Aug. 5, 2019
  • BJP leader in Srinagar says lack of protests shows acceptance

SRINAGAR: An outward calm amid limited protests was seen on the streets of Srinagar, the main city of Kashmir, on Friday, as the region marked three years since the Indian government stripped it of its constitutional semi-autonomy.

On Aug. 5, 2019, New Delhi revoked the special autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir granted by Article 370 of the constitution, and split the state into two federally-governed territories, promising security and reform.

The article had for seven decades been the basis of India’s complex relationship with Jammu and Kashmir — part of the larger Kashmir region, which has been the subject of international dispute since the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan.

Both countries claim Kashmir in full, and rule in part.

Article 370 allowed the Muslim-majority region to have its own flag, the freedom to make its own regulations on permanent residency, ownership of property, fundamental rights, and to bar Indians from outside the state from settling there.

I want to warn the people of this nation that the ruling party will completely destroy the Indian constitution the way they have done with the Kashmir’s constitution.

Mehbooba Mufti, Former chief minister

Its abrogation was followed by a total communications blackout, severe restrictions on freedom of movement, and the detention of hundreds of local political leaders — some of whom still remain in prison.

Thousands of additional troops have also been sent to the region, the world’s most militarized zone, where over 500,000 soldiers were stationed before 2019.

For the past few years, Aug. 5 has been marked by protests, strikes, lockdowns and heavy security deployment, but on Friday most business establishments, schools and offices remained open.

A local leader and spokesperson of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Dr. Hina Bhat, told Arab News the lack of major incidents on Friday was a sign that the scrapping of Article 370 has been accepted by the population.

“The very fact that nothing happened on Aug. 5, and people opened their shops, shows that people have accepted the government’s decision to abrogate the special status of Kashmir,” she said. “They want to move ahead in life.”

But in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk, the city’s commercial hub, shopkeepers said they were not allowed to close their shops.

“The administration called the traders association president and told him that the shops should remain open on Aug. 5,” Ibrahim Dar, a trader in Lal Chowk, told Arab News.

Though others refused to talk, Bashir Ahmad, president of the Lal Chowk Traders’ Association, said that “people are scared and afraid to say this is true.”

A senior police officer in the area declined to comment when approached by Arab News.
Local leaders, some of whom tried to hold a protest in Srinagar on Friday, said there is no acceptance of the change.  

Mehbooba Mufti, the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir who heads the People’s Democratic Party, tried to lead a protest march in the morning.  

“On this day they took away the flags of Kashmir. Not only that: On this day the Indian constitution that gave us a flag and a constitution was also destroyed,” she said, as security forces pushed her back to her party’s office.

“I want to warn the people of this nation that the ruling party will completely destroy the Indian constitution the way they have done with the Kashmir’s constitution.”

Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, a senior political leader and the convenor of People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration — a political alliance between several regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir campaigning to restore its special status — said the silence and outward calm on Friday should not be taken as acceptance.

“It is forced silence,” he told Arab News.

Altaf Hussain, former BBC journalist and political analyst in Srinagar, said that the calm was only superficial.

“There is a resentment. People have not reconciled to the abrogation of the Article 370, they are still shocked and they are putting up a passive resistance.”


Chad’s junta, rebel groups sign peace deal in Qatar before talks

Chad’s junta, rebel groups sign peace deal in Qatar before talks
Updated 8 min 44 sec ago

Chad’s junta, rebel groups sign peace deal in Qatar before talks

Chad’s junta, rebel groups sign peace deal in Qatar before talks
  • The agreement also includes participation in a national, inclusive dialogue

DUBAI: Chad’s military government and some rebel groups signed a pledge Monday in Qatar ahead of planned national reconciliation talks, though the deal did not include the country’s main opposition group.

Under the terms of the deal in Doha, those who signed have agreed to a cease-fire ahead of the Aug. 20 talks planned in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena. Chad’s junta also agreed to “not take any military or police operations against the signing groups” in neighboring countries.

However, the Front for Change and Concord in Chad, the main rebel group in the country, did not sign the pledge. The shadowy group, known by its French acronym FACT, is blamed for the 2021 killing of Chad’s longtime President Idriss Deby Itno, who had ruled the country since 1990.

That immediately called into question whether the deal would be enough to ensure the success of the talks as a planned 18-month transition from military rule to democracy winds down.

FACT did not immediately comment publicly on its decision not to sign the pledge.

We hope “other groups will join the march of reconciliation and peace, with a view to achieving the aspirations and dreams of the Chadian people,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told those gathered for the signing ceremony. “The initial peace agreement we are celebrating today will be an important turning point toward stability and prosperity for the Chadian people.”

“It is no secret that the negotiations faced many challenges which were addressed through your estimated efforts,” Sheikh Mohammed added.

Those challenges include some 20 rebel groups walking out of the talks in July, accusing the military government under Deby’s 38-year-old son, Mahamat Idriss Deby, of “harassments, intimidation, threats and disinformation” amid the negotiations.

Rebels have called for Deby to declare he would not run in any coming elections, though the military junta has insisted that can only be decided in the national dialogue talks. The pledge signed Monday in Qatar do not include any prohibition on Deby running in any coming vote.

Chad had grown frustrated by the 30 years of rule by Deby’s father, leading to years of rebel uprisings in the former French colony that borders Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Libya, Niger, Nigeria and Sudan. Unrest in those surrounding countries have seen Chadian rebel forces hide across the border.


Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death

Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death
Updated 08 August 2022

Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death

Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death
  • Arbery’s killing became part of a larger national reckoning over racial injustice and killings of unarmed Black people
  • A state Superior Court judge imposed life sentences for all three men in January for Arbery’s murder

SAVANNAH: Months after they were sentenced to life in prison for murder, the three white men who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery in a Georgia neighborhood faced a second round of criminal penalties Monday for federal hate crimes committed in the deadly pursuit of the 25-year-old Black man.
US District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood scheduled back-to-back hearings to individually sentence each of the defendants, starting with Travis McMichael, who blasted Arbery with a shotgun after the street chase initiated by his father and joined by a neighbor.
Arbery’s killing on Feb. 23, 2020, became part of a larger national reckoning over racial injustice and killings of unarmed Black people including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. Those two cases also resulted in the Justice Department bringing federal charges.
When they return to court Monday in Georgia, McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan face possible life sentences after a jury convicted them in February of federal hate crimes, concluding that they violated Arbery’s civil rights and targeted him because of his race. All three face were also found guilty of attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels face additional penalties for using firearms to commit a violent crime.
Whatever punishments they receive in federal court could ultimately prove more symbolic than anything. A state Superior Court judge imposed life sentences for all three men in January for Arbery’s murder, with both McMichaels denied any chance of parole.
All three defendants have remained jailed in coastal Glynn County, in the custody of US marshals, while awaiting sentencing after their federal convictions in January.
Because they were first charged and convicted of murder in a state court, protocol would have them turned them over to the Georgia Department of Corrections to serve their life terms in a state prison.
In a court filings last week, both Travis and Greg McMichael asked the judge to instead divert them to a federal prison, saying they won’t be safe in a Georgia prison system that’s the subject of a US Justice Department investigation focused on violence between inmates.
Arbery’s family has insisted the McMichaels and Bryan should serve their sentences in a state prison, arguing a federal penitentiary wouldn’t be as tough. His parents objected forcefully before the federal trial when both McMichaels sought a plea deal that would have included a request to transfer them to federal prison. The judge ended up rejecting the plea agreement.
A federal judge doesn’t have the authority to order the state to relinquish its lawful custody of inmates to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said Ed Tarver, an Augusta lawyer and former US attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. He said the judge could request that the state corrections agency turn the defendants over to a federal prison.
The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and jumped in a truck to chase Arbery after spotting him running past their home outside the port city of Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own truck, helping cut off Arbery’s escape. He also recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range as Arbery threw punches and grabbed at the shotgun.
The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery had been stealing from a nearby house under construction. But authorities later concluded he was unarmed and had committed no crimes. Arbery’s family has long insisted he was merely out jogging.
Still, more than two months passed before any charges were filed in Arbery’s death. The McMichaels and Bryan were arrested only after the graphic video of the shooting leaked online and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local police.
During the February hate crimes trial, prosecutors fortified their case that Arbery’s killing was motivated by racism by showing the jury roughly two dozen text messages and social media posts in which Travis McMichael and Bryan used racist slurs and made disparaging comments about Black people. A woman testified to hearing an angry rant from Greg McMichael in 2015 in which he said: “All those Blacks are nothing but trouble.”
Defense attorneys for the three men argued the McMichaels and Bryan didn’t pursue Arbery because of his race but acted on an earnest — though erroneous — suspicion that Arbery had committed crimes in their neighborhood.


Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine, Turkey says

Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine, Turkey says
Updated 08 August 2022

Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine, Turkey says

Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine, Turkey says
  • Grains shipment part of a deal to unblock Ukrainian sea exports

ISTANBUL: Two more grain-carrying ships have sailed from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Monday, Turkey’s defense ministry said, as part of a deal to unblock Ukrainian sea exports.
The Sacura, which departed from Yuzni, is carrying 11,000 tons of soybeans to Italy, it said, while the Arizona, which left Chernomorsk, is carrying 48,458 tons of corn to Iskenderun in southern Turkey.


Hong Kong reduces COVID-19 quarantine for arrivals

Hong Kong reduces COVID-19 quarantine for arrivals
Updated 08 August 2022

Hong Kong reduces COVID-19 quarantine for arrivals

Hong Kong reduces COVID-19 quarantine for arrivals
  • Hong Kong will implement a health code system similar to mainland China’s on a government-developed tracking app
  • Under the new system, an infected person will be given a red code that prevents them from leaving quarantine

HONG KONG: Hong Kong will cut mandatory hotel quarantine for international arrivals from one week to three days from Friday, Chief Executive John Lee announced in an easing of COVID-19 restrictions that have severely curbed travel.
Once a global logistics and transportation hub, Hong Kong has been largely cut off from the rest of the world for more than two years under its strict adherence to China’s zero-COVID policy.
Under some of the world’s tightest pandemic rules, Hong Kong had required overseas and Taiwan arrivals to undergo seven days of mandatory quarantine and repeated testing while confined to a room in a designated hotel, a restriction that residents and the business community complained had deterred them from traveling.
Lee, Hong Kong’s ex-security chief turned city leader, announced Monday that the quarantine period for arrivals would be shortened to three days’ hotel quarantine plus four days of health monitoring at home or a hotel of their choice.
“We hope to maintain livelihood activities and Hong Kong’s competitiveness, and to give the society the best development momentum and economic vitality,” Lee said.
He denied the easing signalled any departure from China’s policy.
“Staying in touch with the outside world and working to resume quarantine-free travel with the mainland are no contradiction,” he said.
Alongside the new quarantine arrangements, Hong Kong will implement a health code system similar to mainland China’s on a government-developed tracking app.
Under the system, an infected person will be given a red code that prevents them from leaving quarantine.
Overseas arrivals will be given a yellow code and will not be allowed in places such as restaurants, bars, gyms, and cinemas during their four days of self monitoring.


China announces fresh military drills around Taiwan

China announces fresh military drills around Taiwan
Updated 08 August 2022

China announces fresh military drills around Taiwan

China announces fresh military drills around Taiwan
  • Confirms fears of some security analysts and diplomats that Beijing would continue to maintain pressure on Taiwan’s defenses

TAIPEI: China’s military announced fresh military drills on Monday in the seas and airspace around Taiwan — a day after the scheduled end of its largest ever exercises to protest against last week’s visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

China’s Eastern Theatre Command said it would conduct joint drills focusing on anti-submarine and sea assault operations — confirming the fears of some security analysts and diplomats that Beijing would continue to maintain pressure on Taiwan’s defenses.

Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last week infuriated China, which regards the self-ruled island as its own and responded with test launches of ballistic missiles over Taipei for the first time, as well as ditching some lines of dialogue with Washington.

The duration and precise location of the latest drills is not yet known, but Taiwan has already eased flight restrictions near the six earlier Chinese exercise areas surrounding the island.

Shortly before the latest drills were announced, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen met visiting St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, telling him she was moved by his determination to visit despite China’s military pressure. “Prime Minister Gonsalves has expressed in recent days that the Chinese military drills would not prevent him from visiting friends in Taiwan. These statements have deeply touched us,” Tsai said at a welcome ceremony for Gonsalves in Taipei.

It was unclear if Tsai had invited Gonsalves before or after Pelosi’s visit. “We don’t disclose internal planning or communications between governments,” the Taiwanese foreign ministry said.

Beyond the firing of 11 short-range ballistic missiles during the four earlier days of exercises, Chinese warships, fighter jets and drones maneuvered extensively around the island.

Shortly before those drills ended on Sunday, about 10 warships each from China and Taiwan maneuvered at close quarters around the unofficial median line of the Taiwan Strait, according to a person familiar with the situation who is involved with security planning.

Taiwan’s defense ministry said Chinese military ships, aircraft, and drones had simulated attacks on the island and its navy. It said it had sent aircraft and ships to react “appropriately.”

China’s defense ministry meanwhile maintained its diplomatic pressure on the United States, defending its shelving of military-to-military talks in protest at Pelosi’s visit.

“The current tense situation in the Taiwan Strait is entirely provoked and created by the US side on its own initiative, and the US side must bear full responsibility and serious consequences for this,” defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian said in an online post.

“The bottom line cannot be broken, and communication requires sincerity,” Wu said.

China called off formal talks involving theater-level commands, defense policy co-ordination and military maritime consultations on Friday as Pelosi left the region.

Pentagon, State Department and White House officials condemned the move, describing it as an irresponsible over-reaction.

China’s cutting of some of its few communication links with the US military raises the risk of an accidental escalation over Taiwan at a critical moment, according to security analysts and diplomats.

One US official noted that Chinese officials had not responded to calls from senior Pentagon officials amid the tensions last week, but that they did not see this as a formal severing of ties with senior figures, such as US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Asked directly about those reports, defense ministry spokesman Wu said, “China’s relevant counter-measures are a necessary warning to the provocations of the United States and Taiwan, and a legitimate defense of national sovereignty and security.”