August 2003 News

Kashmiris Snap Up Cell Phones

18 August 2003

Srinagar: People in Indian-administered Kashmir have been lining up in their thousands to register for mobile phones after a ban was lifted on civilians using wireless technology in the troubled region. Long queues formed in Srinagar Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced the move in his independence day address last Friday. No sooner had the weekend ended, than the massive demand for the new service became apparent. Mile-long queues formed in the two biggest towns, Jammu and Srinagar, with people hoping to register for one of 52,000 cell phone connections. The restive Himalayan region may be home to the highest battlefield in the world - but until now, its people have been amongst the least hi-tech in India. Gunfire and ringtones With well-armed insurgents waging a decade-old guerrilla war against the Indian army, the government had banned the use of mobiles for fear that militants may use the technology to coordinate attacks. Recently however, the number of attacks has decreased, and words of peace have been exchanged with Pakistan, whom India has accused of aiding and arming the Islamic insurgency. We are delighted - we used to feel cut off Kapil Wazir Srinagar resident Observers say that by lifting the restriction on Kashmiris owning mobile phones, the Indian Government hopes to win back some goodwill from the people. 'I just cannot wait to hear the jingle of my cell phone. I am so excited,' Tasmina Dar, one of a handful of women waiting to register at the telecoms office in Srinagar, told the Associated Press. Long wait The BBC's Altaf Hussein in Srinagar says Kashmiris have long resented being denied the advantages of modern technology. Wireless phones in particular have spread like wildfire in parts of India where traditional land-line connections are scarce, and take years to be set up. Kashmiris have had to rely on fault-prone land lines to communicate For Khizr Mohammed, a Srinagar businessman, the five-hour wait to register for a cell phone was nothing compared to the five years he has waited to have a land line installed. 'I am here to book a cell phone because I have a better chance of getting one than a land line,' he said. The mobile phones will be provided by Indian's state-owned telecoms company, BSNL, and the network is expected to be up and running by early September. George Marshal, the company's general manager, said the service would start off in Srinagar and Jammu, before being extended to the resort towns of Gulmarg and Pahalgam.


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