Kashmir marks losing its autonomy a year ago as troops looks on
More than 200,000 troops guard the region of about 12-million people, a year after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked its self-rule
New Delhi — Authorities have lifted a curfew in the main city in India’s portion of Kashmir where sweeping movement and internet curbs and a heavier than usual military presence mark a year since the revocation of seven decades of autonomy in the disputed Muslim-majority region.
The two-day curfew was rolled back after widespread criticism, a government order said, but businesses and public transport will remain shut on the August 5 anniversary as part of ongoing coronavirus control measures.
While the government claims the fragile security situation in the area is easing, the number of troops deployed is at an all time high. More than 200,000 troops, including paramilitary, army and local police, continue to guard the region of about 12-million people, a year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government revoked autonomy, said senior Indian security officials who declined to be named, citing rules on speaking to the media.
Despite that, the region recorded 70 militant incidents until June 30 compared with 107 in all of 2019, Indian officials said.
Home minister Amit Shah announced the changed status of Indian Kashmir in parliament last year after imposing strict movement restrictions, cutting phone and internet connectivity, evacuating tourists and Hindu pilgrims, and arresting local political leaders. Former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti remains in detention, which was extended last week until November.
Many other leaders, including former chief minister Omar Abdullah, were freed after being held for several months.
A spokesperson for the federal home ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
“The prohibition of political activity in the valley is stripping New Delhi of any potential Kashmir allies,” the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a report released on Wednesday. “India’s attempt to sidetrack them will almost certainly push them towards less conciliatory positions.”
Recruitment of local men and boys by militant groups — an indicator of the mood in the region — has shown a significant drop from 2018 but remains nearly as high as last year, the Indian security officials said.
The state still doesn’t have access to 4G internet because of concerns about recruitment drives by militant groups and inflammatory material on social media, a senior officia,l who didn’t want to be named, said.
The year-long shutdown has likely cost local businesses more than 400-billion rupees ($5.3bn) with more than 500,000 jobs lost, The Print reported citing Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad, president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The move raised concerns in neighbouring Pakistan and China, which share borders with Kashmir. While Pakistan, which also stakes claim to the region, had unsuccessfully raised the issue at the UN, China had criticised the move.
Pakistan’s cabinet approved a new political map on Tuesday, one that claims control over the entire region of Jammu and Kashmir including areas governed by India. The map also claims the Himalayan Siachen Glacier where the two armies have permanent bases and marks an area where China and India have boundary disputes as an “undefined frontier”. In November, India released a map that claimed parts of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.
India’s foreign ministry said the map’s assertions “have neither legal validity nor international credibility”, in a statement late on Tuesday.
“There is a lack of trust,” Altaf Bukhari, the state’s former finance minister said on Tuesday. The “only answer to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is holding free, transparent and fair elections.”
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