August 2019 News

India Says It Will Ease Restrictions In Kashmir

15 August 2019
The New York Times
Kai Schultz

New Delhi: India announced on Friday that restrictions in Kashmir, which has been locked down for nearly two weeks, would be eased over the next few days, with schools and government offices to reopen on Monday and phone service to be gradually restored. The Indian government unilaterally stripped Kashmir of its semiautonomous status last week. Anticipating unrest, the authorities had detained scores of regional politicians and civil servants, cut mobile and landline connections, and deployed thousands of troops to guard barricaded roads. Critics said the blackout, unprecedented in its scope, was an egregious attempt to silence voices in Kashmir, a mountainous, predominantly Muslim territory that has been a source of high tension between India and Pakistan, nuclear-armed neighbors that each administer parts of the region. B.V.R. Subrahmanyam, Kashmir's chief secretary, announced the easing of restrictions shortly after the United Nations Security Council scheduled a rare closed-door meeting about Kashmir on Friday to discuss India's actions. It was the first time the 15-member council had discussed Kashmir in decades. The council adjourned without making any public statement, suggesting there was no consensus among its members on what course of action, if any, to take in the protracted conflict. The Pakistani ambassador, Maleeha Lodhi, told reporters afterward that she considered the meeting an achievement. 'The rights of the Kashmiri people have been heard today in highest diplomatic forum in the world,' she said. 'The fact that the meeting took place is testimony to the fact that this is an internationally recognized dispute.' India's ambassador, Syed Akbaruddin, emphasized that nothing had been decided by the Security Council. He warned against heeding statements from Pakistan or its allies that 'masquerade as the will of the international community.' Earlier at a news conference in Srinagar, Kashmir's biggest city, Mr. Subrahmanyam said that cutting off the region's communications had been necessary to maintain law and order, and that daily life there was becoming 'completely normal.' 'We have prevented any loss of human life despite concerted efforts by terrorist organizations, radical groups and continuing efforts by Pakistan to destabilize the situation,' he said. But many Kashmiris said they were still seething with anger after the government removed the region's limited autonomy, which had been in place since the 1940s, and cut the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories. The demotion puts Kashmir more tightly under the control of India's governing Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist party that has promised for decades to remove the region's autonomy. Critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi regard the decision as an attack on India's secular identity and an affront to democracy. In recent days, there have been sporadic street protests in Kashmir involving thousands of demonstrators. Security forces have responded in some cases by firing pellets into crowds, injuring several people. Last weekend, the authorities sealed off main roads and deployed surveillance helicopters in Srinagar ahead of Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest days on the Muslim calendar. Many Kashmiris were furious that they could not call relatives to tell them they were safe. Tensions with Pakistan, which has a history of funding separatist militants in Kashmir, have also escalated. Last week, Pakistani officials cut all bilateral trade with India, expelled India's top diplomat and said they would not rule out war, although a conventional military response would probably be too expensive for Pakistan. Pakistan's army said on Thursday that at least three of its soldiers, two civilians and five Indian soldiers had been killed in an exchange of fire along the disputed border, known as the Line of Control. India denied any loss of life. On Friday, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh hinted that India could change its 'no first use' policy on its nuclear weapons. 'What happens in future depends on the circumstances,' he wrote on Twitter. Usman Rashid, 22, a Kashmiri shop owner visiting New Delhi, said he was skeptical that the Indian government would lift the restrictions in Kashmir quickly, considering how upset people there were. Mr. Rashid said he expected mass protests once communications were restored. 'Whatever harm the Indian government has done to Kashmiris, do you think they will not come out to seek revenge and vent out their anger?' he asked. 'The situation will worsen.'

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