Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 August 2019

India to ease Kashmir curfew 'after independence day'

The streets remain deserted due to a communication blackout and a severely restricted movement, with Muslims saying they fear this is the new normal

Women shout slogans during a protest that followed restrictions after the government scrapped the special constitutional status for Kashmir,. Reuters
Women shout slogans during a protest that followed restrictions after the government scrapped the special constitutional status for Kashmir,. Reuters

India is to ease Kashmir's 10-day curfew following its independence day on Thursday, a state governor has said, after the lockdown meant restricted Eid Al Adha celebrations for the Muslim-majority region.

A communication blackout and a severely restricted movement has been in place in the disputed territory since August 4, when India announced that it would end Kashmir's special semi-autonomous status.

In Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, merely a dozen shops were open and the streets deserted as loudspeakers bellow from army vehicles that “the imposed restrictions are still in force".

According to residents around 8,000 people protested after Friday prayers during Eid, which ended on Tuesday, with security forces firing tear gas and pellet-firing shotguns to break up the rally.

Fearing further protests and unrest in the long-restive region, tens of thousands of extra Indian troops have been deployed, turning the picturesque main city of Srinagar into a warren of barbed wire and barricades.

Although the four million residents of Kashmir, where an insurgency has simmered for decades, are used to blockades, this is one residents say they’ve not seen before. Amid the labyrinth whose entry and exit points are changed frequently, people find themselves disoriented in their own city, and struggle to memorise its frequently changing street map.

The restrictions made it especially difficult to mark Eid, and those who rely on the festival to make an income have lost out.

“Every year I sell sheep worth 30 lakh rupees (Dh155,000),” Mohammad Iqbal, 24, a sheep farmer, told The National. "[Prime Minister Narendra] Modi has ruined our business.”

Dilpazeer Ashraf, 36, a handicraft shop manager, said that the Muslim tradition of sacrificing and distributing meat among neighbours, friends and relatives, meant nothing this year.

“In seven decades of conflict, this is the worst Eid that Kashmir has ever seen,” he said. He will not let his son on to the streets for fears that “he might not come back”.

Mr Ashraf said that he worries that the current loss of "identity, business, civil liberty, and the right to offer prayers” is now a permanent change, and that Kashmiri Muslims might lose celebrations like Eid all together.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has said old laws prohibiting people from outside Kashmir from buying property, settling there and taking up government jobs had hindered its development.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan warned India that Pakistan was prepared to respond to any aggression in the disputed region of Kashmir, vowing the time had come to teach New Delhi a lesson.

"The Pakistani army has solid information that they [India] are planning to do something in Pakistani Kashmir, and they are ready and will give a solid response," Mr Khan said during a televised speech in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

"We have decided that if India commits any type of violation we will fight till the end."

The former cricketer's warnings of war represented a steep escalation in Pakistani rhetoric after Islamabad said last week that it they had ruled out a "military option" over the dispute.

"The time has arrived to teach you a lesson," Mr Khan said added in the speech marking the country's Independence Day, which falls one day before India's.

In Islamabad, posters urged residents to express solidarity with Kashmiris and roadside vendors sold Azad Kashmir flags as well as the Pakistan flag commonly displayed on August 14.

Following the move to abolish Kashmir's special status, Pakistan has launched a diplomatic offensive aimed at reversing the order and formally asked the United Nations Security Council late on Tuesday to hold an emergency session to address India's "illegal actions".

Pakistan has also expelled the Indian ambassador, halted bilateral trade and suspended cross-border transport services. However, analysts said the actions were unlikely to move Delhi.

Earlier this week Mr Khan lambasted the international community for failing to challenge India and said turning a blind eye to the spread of Indian Hindu nationalism was the same as appeasing Hitler, a comparison he made again on Wednesday.

As tension simmered with India, Pakistan moved ahead with Independence Day celebrations which began at the stroke of midnight with firework shows lighting up the skies in major cities, where residents jammed the streets waving the national flag from their cars and motorcycles.

In August 1947 the British Raj was dismantled with the subcontinent divided into two independent states — Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan.

Millions were uprooted in one of the largest mass migrations in history, with experts estimating at least one million died in the communal violence unleashed by the partition that continues to haunt the subcontinent to this day.

Kashmir was has been divided between India and Pakistan after following independence from Britain in 1947, and has been the spark for two wars between the two nuclear-armed arch-rivals.

* Additional reporting by Yashraj Sharma

Updated: August 14, 2019 08:46 PM

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