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Archive for September 2010

Thousands rally in Azad Kashmir against India

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MUZAFFARABAD: Thousands of people rallied in Azad Kashmir on Wednesday at the behest of a new movement campaigning for independence for the mountain region and condemning Indian “brutalities”.

Pakistani Kashmiri activists shout slogans during a protest rally in Islamabad.

It was the first rally organised by Tehreek-e-Azadi-e-Kashmir (TAK) and was attended by activists from jihad groups including Hizb-ul-Mujahidin and Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD).

The new coalition has been organising two days of rallies in Azad Kashmir and planned to hold a rally in Islamabad later on Wednesday.

A crowd of around 2,500 people shouted “Al-Jihad”, “Allahu Akbar” and “We want Freedom”, as they arrived in Muzaffarabad.

Indian Kashmir has been hit by a surge in protests since June 11, when a 17-year old student was killed by a police teargas shell.

Since then Indian security forces have been accused of killing a total of 107 people, mostly teenagers and students.

“The ongoing freedom movement will transcend beyond the boundaries of Kashmir if the international community fails to take notice of Indian brutalities against this peaceful struggle,” JuD leader Abdur Rehman Makki said.

He criticised both Islamabad and New Delhi over stalled efforts to resolve the fate of Kashmir.

“There should be only one-point agenda of any talks between the two countries … the Kashmir issue.”

TAK spokesman Shafqat Hussain told a news agency that the new movement wanted to provide a platform to all political and religious parties campaigning for freedom in Kashmir, but stressed it would remain an unarmed organisation.

JuD is blacklisted as a terror group by the UN and considered a front for the armed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group that Washington and New Delhi blamed for the 2008 attacks on Mumbai.

Afghan president announces council for talks

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KABUL – Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday he had appointed members of a committee that will aim to talk peace with the Taliban, including warlords, ex-insurgent commanders and Muslim clerics.

Karzai has been pushing to open a dialogue with the Taliban leadership

“Today we will announce the list of the High Peace Council members,” Karzai said during a ceremony marking Afghanistan’s national literacy day.

His office released a list of 68 people hand-picked by Karzai to lead his efforts to broker a peace deal with Taliban and other insurgents fighting to topple his Western-backed administration.

The list included former president and warlord Burhanuddin Rabani, warlords Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayaf and Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq — all key figures in the resistance during the 1996-2001 Taliban rule over the country.

These commanders helped the United States and other Western allies topple the Taliban from power in late 2001.

The creation of the council was a key decision made in June at a “peace jirga” in Kabul attended by community, tribal, religious and political leaders from across the country.

Dozens of pro-government Islamic clerics, former government officials and tribal elders are also part of the new council, along with at least seven women, Karzai’s spokesman Waheed Omer said.

“This council is mandated to broker peace through negotiation and reconciliation” with the Taliban, Omer told reporters.

“The mandate given to the High Council for Peace is a big mandate. The government will respect their mandate,” he said.

Karzai has been pushing to open a dialogue with the Taliban leadership aimed at speeding an end to the war heading into its 10th year — but the Taliban have rejected talks unless NATO-led foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

Officials have said the council would include former members of the Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami, a militant group led by former prime minister and mujahedeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami is currently in a tenuous alliance with the Taliban, although both sides remain suspicious of each other.

“There are sisters on the list, too,” Karzai said earlier Tuesday, without naming any of the women to be appointed.

But a rights watchdog characterised the members as “unlikely peacemakers” and noted women’s representation of just 11 percent.

“There are too many names here that Afghans will associate with war crimes, warlordism and corruption,” said Rachel Reid, Afghan analyst with New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“This is a disappointing outcome for Afghan women and girls. Women are once again being short changed. The government had promised them more robust representation than this,” she said.

Omer said that one more woman would be added to bring the total to eight.

HRW has been vocal in opposing any erosion of women’s rights as a cost of opening a dialogue with the insurgents, who banned women from education, work or leaving their homes without male relatives during their brutal regime.

The United States and NATO have more than 150,000 troops in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban-led insurgency, most of them in the southern hotspots of Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Karzai renewed his call Tuesday for the Taliban to stop fighting and join the peace process.

“Compatriots! Do not destroy your land for other’s interests. Do not kill your people for other’s interests, do not close down schools for other’s interests,” he said a speech at a Kabul high school, referring to insurgents.

Karzai has made indirect references to Pakistan and other neighbouring countries allegedly supporting the Taliban for long-term strategic interests. On occasions he has named Pakistan directly.

“Taliban and others, if they consider themselves from this country, and consider themselves Muslims and Afghans, must know every bullet they fire is a bullet at the heart of this land and at the interest of enemies of this land,” he said.

MQM slams US for Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s sentence

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KARACHI: Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain deemed the United States responsible for the unrest in the world, demanding the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui.

Pakistan said it would leave “no stone unturned” in trying to bring home Dr Aafia Siddiqui, who was sentenced to 86 years in jail by a US court.

Hussain addressed the scores of people, estimated to be 300,000 by the MQM, who gathered on his call at MA Jinnah road, near Tibet centre, on Tuesday to condemn an American court’s verdict of Siddiqui’s case.

On September 23, she was sentenced to 86 years in prison on seven charges, including the attempt to murder US military personnel.

The rally was declared successful as members of MQM-opposing groups including the Sunni Tehreek and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam also participated in the rally. Representatives of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, Karachi Bar Association, trade unions also joined to condemn the verdict of Dr Siddiqui’s case.

Claiming that Siddiqui is innocent, Hussain demanded her release. “The Americans are responsible for what they have done to the world. America has killed innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he decried.

“The allegations against Dr Siddiqui are false as they could not prove them. America is answerable [not Dr Siddiqui],” he said, slamming the US. Hussain claimed that ninety percent of the world’s population is against the US and its policies.

The MQM showed solidarity with Dr Siddiqui’s cause in more than one way – representatives of MQM’s Rabita Committee were sitting with Dr Siddiqui’s sister, Fauzia Siddiqui. Altaf Hussain called for a united stand on Dr Siddiqui’s case, urging all civil society groups to join in the “struggle”. “Dr Aafia is the daughter of the nation and a symbol of pride [as she] stood courageously and faced the trial. It was exemplary to see a Muslim woman not give up and fight,” Hussain claimed.

Security arrangements

A few hours before the rally, men in yellow caps guarded the entry and exit points of the venue, while a heavy contingent of police and other law enforcing agencies were also deployed. MQM’s security personnel searched each and every participant of the rally at the entrance. The police was seen on the roofs of buildings around MA Jinnah road while the paramilitary Rangers took their resistant positions after the rally ended.

Rallies across Sindh

Several rallies were organised in various parts of the province to protest against Dr Siddiqui’s sentence. Activists of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Muslim Students Federation held a demonstration outside the Hyderabad Press Club to condemn the sentence. Protesters shouted slogans against the verdict and claimed that the government has not taken the issue seriously.

Meanwhile, in Sukkur, a rally was led by Qutubud Din, the MQM Sukkur Zone incharge, during which protesters marched from Jinnah Chowk to the press club. Activists of the Sunni Tehreek and the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz also participated in the rally.

Leaked CBI documents: Militants to target Foreign Nationals at Commonwealth Games in New Delhi

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Siyast Aur Pakistan

Naxalite separatist militants will be targetting foreign nationals and athletes in next week’s Commonwealth Games in New Delhi – according to TOP SECRET documents leaked to PKKH from New Delhi’s Central Bureau of Investigation, Special Crime Unit.

The reports identify two separate militant groups, one of which has come under the radar as recently as 18th of September, as the athletes and forward teams start arriving in New Delhi.


The militant groups are said to have been supplied with explosives, gelatin sticks and detonators by ‘a large network’, related to the August 27th incident in Madhya Pradesh where a hundred and sixty three (163) trucks laden with explosives went missing. NDTV reported at the time the trucks were loaded with detonators and gelatine sticks which were being sent from the government’s Dholpur Factory in Rajasthan to Chanderi and Sagar town in Madhya Pradesh.

Both companies are owned by Jaikishan Aswani, who has close links with extremist Hindu militant groups.

With barely days to go before the start of the Commonwealth Games, the leak of these documents is bound to raise serious doubts over the security and threat perception for the games, already reeling from planning and construction issues as well as the pull-out of leading international athletes citing security and hygeine concerns.

On Tuesday, September 21st, an Australian television news crew managed to enter the main games arena carrying a suitcase with an explosives detonation kit without being stopped.

The Channel 7 journalist who also filmed blackmarket explosives on sale near New Delhi, walked into the venue carrying the case, capable of triggering upto 200 explosions if fitted with a detonator, without attracting suspicion.

The Indian government has asked the army to be on alert in view of the Commonwealth Games. The alert was sounded after several nations raised security concerns following the September 19 Jama Masjid shooting in which two Taiwanese tourists were injured and a bomb went off in a car near the firing spot.

However, the fact that this latest information regarding the naxalite plans to specifically target foreign nationals and athletes has come to light this late, security officials are said to be horrified at what lies in wait as athletes start arriving in Delhi for the games.

‘We knew there would be threats and we had covered most of the ground where we saw these threats coming from. However this new information is absolutely devastating since we just do not know enough at this stage to be able to confidently reassure the public that the games will go on without incident. All we know is that there are people intent on killing the foreign nationals and that they have the means to do so. There is a serious amount of explosives and detonation kits channeled into Delhi specifically for these games’, said a security official to PKKH on condition of anonymity.

APL Letter to Barrack Obama, The President of USA

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His Excellency Barrack H Obama
The President of USA
The United States of America
White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington
DC 20500

Dear Mr. President Obama,

Re: Conviction of Dr Afia Siddiqui, a female Muslim Pakistani Doctor (PhD)

Association of Pakistani Lawyers a team of Pakistani origin lawyers, Solicitors, Barristers, Judges in UK wrote to you on 5 November 2008 congratulating you on your remarkable, historic victory for change in the United Sates, and in return in the World. In particular we emphasized in our letter that, “America needs to offer hope to the community of nation and revitalize its efforts to jointly consult with the world if it ever desire to come closer to victory on its drive against extremism. No doubt, 9/11 was the most tragic and most condemnable attack on civilization by criminals and proportionate use of force, revival of United Nations role, protecting the sovereignty of independent nations, joint intelligence sharing mechanism and collective wisdom is the key to defeat this menace”.

In this light of the above we have a cause to write to you on behalf of the Pakistani & Muslim community on the issue of Dr Afia Siddiqui’s Conviction & sentence. APL, an Association of Pakistani origin Solicitors, Barristers, Judges and ex pat members has taken a serious note Dr Afia Siddiqui’s sentence on 23 September 2010 for 86 years and her earlier conviction of 3 February 2010 by Jury of 12 men at USA and has declared her treatment inhuman and her trial unfair in USA. Her sentence of 86 years may result in a stumbling block between US-Pak people to people contact and relations between states. APL Chair said that US system of justice is able to dispense justice and Dr Afia Siddiqui needed justice which must be seen to be done and no better but through US courts and at the moment unlike British courts , US judicial system has failed Dr Afia Siddiqui, her family and millions eyeing on the trial across the globe.

APL observed that Dr Afia was kidnapped and kept at Bagram Airfield without the aid of a lawyer, doctor and or consulate access for years and her being a female, Muslim women that has the potential to charge the mood of the public.

USA is already making efforts to bridge the gap between the people of Pakistan and US Administration and Dr. Afia’s conviction will wipe out all efforts and this decision seems to have dictated through fears than the facts and law. Dr Afia is demonized as ‘Al-Qaeda’ lady or in official circles as ‘the grey lady of Bagram’ without substance of her association or affiliation as Association with Al-Qaeda itself is a criminal offence and that avenue has not been pursued. Under the circumstances she may never get a fair trial from the jury due to 9/11 as in built prejudice against the perpetrators of the 9/11 makes it impossible to allow a fair hearing against anyone who is allegedly portrayed by media or through whisper campaign to be an associate of that outfit no matter how much it is denied. Though, we agree that USA has failed to prove or at least bring it open the limits of her engagements.

APL feels that as has been witnessed in UK that many convictions were overturned by the court of appeal considering it either excessive or unsafe on the narrow interpretation of law, and or due to fear of miscarriage of justice, similarly we feel that common sense will prevail at higher court(s) at appeal where the conviction will be quashed as circumstances of Dr Afia’s case are highly contested, and incredible. In principles of law Dr Afia should not have been at Bagram at first place, where she was detained as prisoner no.650 and there was no record, mention and or trial at a place of her kidnapping and or arrest (Karachi), and or place of her first detention (Ghazni) and there are allegation(s) of torture. Now either the public knows the half truth in this case and or the US authorities are concealing material facts from the court(s) in relation to Dr Afia Siddiqui which calls for a greater insight and or enquiry.

APL feel that Dr. Afia’s conviction of 3 February 2010 and her sentence of 23 September is a decision of a court of law of first instance which on the face of it and in principle must be respected, but we all have disagreements / reservations on rational reasons with the judgments as is in any society, and that’s why we have appeal system. Lack of concrete evidence (DNA / fingerprints) linking her with the Weapon, and her mysterious whereabouts and accounts of arrest and allegations of torture and unlawful confinement without access to his lawyers, doctors, and consulate staff all call for a fair appeal in this matter and or presidential intervention on humanitarian grounds, as if her account of arrest is right, she has already spent nearly 10 years equivalent of her sentence counting day and nights in a prison cell (pre trial). US system of justice is able to dispense justice and Dr Afia Siddiqui needs justice which must be seen to be done and no better but through US courts which must show its inherited powers and allow her a fair hearing on appeal meeting the norms of the Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 which allows any person to have a fair trial.

If court decisions are allowed to be dictated by fears or through prejudices, then I am afraid the future of our multi religious & cultural societies is bleak and onus falls on American administration to either grant presidential pardon, release her to allow her to go home freely or USA’s criminal justice system who are at a crossroad to produce some tangible results in their system through its institutions assuring minority community of justice and fair play.

APL is of the view that looking at the past and the case of Brown v Board of Education, 347 US 483 (1954) where so rightly Supreme Court gave decision against segregation of white and Black children in the public state school solely on the basis of race because that segregation was against the principle of equal protection of law guaranteeing Fourteenth Amendment, and at this juncture based on the past knowledge, APL is of the view that US justice system can ensure justice with Muslim minorities in USA similarly as they did with the black minorities during the race war in the past, and they need to prove it by action(s) not words.

APL is also of the view that political administration is also fairly capable to separate the chaff from grain and Dr Afia’s case is a fine example where political administration must exercise their judgment call to ensure administrative fairness with the ‘Grey lady of Bagram’ who has been in detention for years before trial could take place.

APL with that hope jointly has decided to approach your kind intervention on this very sensitive issue pertaining to Pakistani community here in UK, USA and abroad, and has the following resolution(s);

Resolution of Demand:

1. Govt of United States must consider withdrawing charges against Dr Afia Siddiqui and her repatriation to Pakistan forthwith; or alternately;

2. Govt of United States must consider Presidential pardon for Dr Afia Siddiqui as she has been missing and or confined allegedly since 2003 and there is no account of her missing time in Bagram airfield and her conviction is unsafe considering the state of mind and or issues of serious allegation(s) of torture and maltreatment; or

3. Govt of United States must consider appealing this decision as it is an unsafe judgemnet as post 9/11 putting people of New York in a position of jurors to find a question of guilty/not guilty of a person who is highly publicised as allegedly associated with internationally notorious outfit (AL-Qaeda) is unreasonable and rules of natural justice and norms of Art.6 of the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 has not been met. looking at the case of Brown v Board of Education, 347 US 483 (1954) where so rightly Supreme Court gave decision against segregation of white and Black children in the public state school solely on the basis of race because that segregation was against the principle of equal protection of law guaranteeing Fourteenth Amendment, at this juncture based on the past knowledge, I am sure, USA can ensure justice with Muslim minorities (its a test case in that scenario); There is overwhelming evidence of making this conviction unsafe i.e lack of DNA / finger prints evidence of her linking to the rifle, her unlawful presence at Bagram as the account of her arrest is not credible, discrepancies between the accounts of Interpreter, and other two witnesses, and no empty shells of the bullets fired were presented at court all makes the conviction unsafe; and these questions must be put to rest which questions the prosperity of US criminal justice system to be fair to Muslims post 9/11 as is the case in UK where many convictions were overturned by superior courts declaring them unsafe and excessive;

4. Govt of United States must consider prisoner exchange with the Govt of Pakistan as in the past many prisoners from Pakistan has been shifted to USA without judicial oversight, and on the similar approach Dr Afia Siddiqui must be returned to Pakistan to remain in Pakistani custody whilst the issue of her case (withdrawal/appeal and or pardon) are considered at home in USA as she has already spent many years in confinement and her return would ease her sufferings and will avoid hampering United States effort to increase people to people contact and efforts to winning the hearts and minds of the Pakistani people.

5. Govt of United States must consider setting up a commission to adjudicate the questions of true facts surrounding Dr Afia’s arrest, allegations of torture and mal treatment at Bagram airfield, and the issue of extra judicial and extra territorial confinement and imprisonment at Bagram where there are allegations that CIA paid huge monies to Pak officials for making successful arrests and Gen. Musharraf accepted that fact in his book, (in the line of fire). Dr Afia is a female, Muslim lady from Pakistan who is a highly educated (PhD from Brandeis University 2001) and has been either bought via CIA and or arrested in dubious circumstances at Pakistan and or Afghanistan; she has been strip searched, allegedly maltreated, interrogated mostly without lawyers , proper examination of a female doctor, and or consulate access at Afghanistan and has been shifted to USA without her consent. How come she was shown to be at Bagram in 2008 when people had knowledge of her whereabouts as prisoner no 650 prior to that date makes it desirable to settle the facts once for all to ease the people of Pakistan as this is the kind of material if remain uncertain acts as prima facie fodder for radicalisation which needs to be put at rest through proper enquiry. Incidents like Abu Gharib force APL to say that the allegation of such nature may not be easily refuted without an independent oversight or an enquiry. Enquiry into findings of fact will pave way for clarity and dispensation of fair trial ensuring justice which is seen to be done in future.

We hope our representations are given due weight in the interest of public in order to promote rule of law, justice and true accountability of the forces and in order to fill the gaps between ancient civilizations who are at a crossroad to mend fences and be friends for the greater good of mankind and for the sake of humanity.

India’s Occupation of Kashmir to end soon

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By: Rohit Kumar

Despite its insensitivity and total ignorance to facts on the ground, Indian security apparatus is less than three months away from a disgraceful retreat from the occupied valley.

The Union Government of India sent a heavily constituted all-party delegation to Kashmir to assess the on-ground situation, meet with all strands of society in Kashmir, and to devise ways and means to overcome the current crisis faced by the Valley. It failed to do all three.

The delegation failed to assess the situation on the ground as it was heavily protected by military, police and Indian J&K government functionaries. It was totally protected from the rioters, the youth of Kashmir which was out on the streets demanding its rights – respect, autonomy, self-determination and the chance for a peaceful life without indiscriminate violence. The delegation, comprising 39 members and led by Union Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, met with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a spiritual and political leader of the Valley’s majority Muslim population, while the latter was in forced house arrest. Why? Because the Mirwaiz refused to meet with the delegation. So he was forced to stay inside his home, while the delegation paid him a visit there. And everyone is aware of divisions within this delegation over its meeting with hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani, who proposes the independence of Kashmir. The BJP claimed that it did not want to meet Gilani, while CPI-M’s Sitaram Yechury said that the decision was a delegation-based one and approved by the delegation’s head, Mr. Chidambaram, who himself could not meet Geelani as it would violate procotol. Of course. How could the Union Home Minister acknowledge a separatist as a political leader of Kashmir? Finally, the delegation was unable to devise ways and means to rescue Kashmir from the current chaos, even though Mr. Chidambaram claimed that the future of Kashmir is secure as part of India. What wishful thinking, even as his own delegation crumbled and scrambled for any semblance of a unified position on the Kashmir issue.

The fact remains that Kashmir can never be an integral part of India unless and until atrocities committed by Indian forces (military, paramilitary and civil police) are atoned for and unless and until the murderers in uniform are held accountable. The repeal or withdrawal of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFPSA) has now become a thing of the future, and the past is yet to be reconciled with. The CPI-M’s Gurudas Dasgupta perhaps has the most sound understanding of the Kashmir situation: he stated that the Centre needed to take “calculated risks” to defuse it, and that the anger of the people of the Valley was not “unsubstantiated”. He also held that “the special position of the State has been gradually diluted”, adding that the use of weapons for crowd control was unjustified, whether it was guns, teargas shells, lathis or water cannons. In response to Army Chief Gen. V. K. Singh’s referral of AFSPA as an “enabling provision”, Dasgupta said that “the Army should not be allowed to make political statements. Democracy does not allow it”.

Dasgupta, a leftist MP, in an ominous tone, said “I have no hesitation in saying that the rest of India does not know what is happening in Kashmir and the people of the Valley feel that Indians do not show concern. There is a critical degree of alienation and if we still do not realise that we all need to do something, Kashmir may be lost to India”. An astute observation, but one that will fall on deaf ears.

The Union Government, who was in alliance with leftist parties till its proximity to the US became all too apparent with the nuclear deal, should pay attention to the same leftists who urged Mr. Chidambaram to allow the delegation to meet separatist leaders, including Geelani. While the delegation has fallen woefully short of its expectations, and has left unrequited hope and greater fears in its midst, it has at least interacted with all leaders of the Kashmiri people – including the jailed Shabir Shah of the Democratic Freedom Party. Yet, it remains aloof to the demands of autonomy, of freedom, of ‘azadi’; it has shut its ears to the slogans of ‘Go India, Go back’ and is willing to spill the blood of its own soldiers and troopers as far as the territory of Kashmir remains within the confines of the Indian confederation – whether any Kashmiri is left to claim Kashmir or not is a “non-issue”, and whether Kashmir becomes a ghost state or not is irrelevant.

The Indian Government must cease this blood-letting immediately. However, instead of taking a rational approach, the Indian government is preparing to counter Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi at the UN General Assembly despite multilateral calls (including by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and the OIC) for concern over the situation in Kashmir, and urges directed towards the Indian establishment to exercise restraint against Kashmiri civilians – which PM Manmohan Singh has called “Indian citizens”. Yet I do not see Indian citizens being shot at anywhere else. I do not see Indian women raped by army officers, soldiers and paramilitary jawans. And I do not see Indian citizens throwing stones at Indian authorities.

Maybe I need new glasses, or maybe the Union Government has actually blinded itself with fake visions of being a superpower that can not and will not “fall prey” to subnationalist motivations.

While more than 400 million Indians suffer in debilitating poverty, a report by the CIA claims that India is (or will be) the third most powerful country in the world. Let me survey a Kashmiri or a Maoist rebel to ask them if they agree with this CIA report. Let me ask a Dalit, or a Muslim in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

India must wake up before it breaks up.

A well-read Indian daily has the most precise, most succinct statement to make regarding the Kashmir situation. It says that Kashmir has become the proverbial hen and egg story: Peace cannot be restored here unless talks are held, and the talks cannot be held unless peace is restored. In this cyclical debate, violence will only beget violence, ignorance will only inflame tempers, and guns can only silence some voices while ten cries are raised for every fallen one.

Life between the curfews in Indian Kashmir

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By Ben Sheppard

SRINAGAR, India – For much of the summer, Srinagar in Indian Kashmir has been a ghost town: all shops shut, streets deserted, and eerily silent. Until the curfew is lifted for just a few hours.

Stalls selling fruit spring up on every corner, noisy traffic jams fill the lanes, and residents rush out to buy fresh food, medicines and toys for their children.

Srinagar is the summer capital of Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region that has endured more than three months of deadly clashes between security forces and protesters who want Kashmir to be independent from India.

To thwart public unrest authorities impose curfews that can last for several days at a time. Anyone caught outside risks being beaten or shot by paramilitary troops and police.

Srinagar’s one million residents can still be found down back alleys, where men lean in doorways arguing about politics, while their families watch endless television or play cards inside.

“It’s miserable because we are living under military occupation,” said Arif Jan, 40, a shopkeeper in Nowhatta district near the town’s biggest mosque.

“My family stocks up on rice and lentils when we can. That is how we live.”

For Showkat Ahmed, the curfew meant he could only get to his wedding with a special permit and a police escort.

Sitting nervously in the back of a red Maruti hatchback decked out in plastic flowers, Ahmed was driven at high speed through the empty town in the middle of the afternoon to meet his bride.

“The curfew means my sisters can’t even make it to my wedding,” Ahmed, a 28-year-old shawlmaker, said. “I am worried about my relatives at home and want to get the marriage ceremony over so I can return to them.”

Normally Kashmiri weddings are night-long affairs with hundreds of guests. But no celebrations had been organised for Ahmed and his new wife. “In the future, I just want a normal life,” he said.

Shops selling wedding decorations are among the first to open their doors when curfew restrictions are briefly lifted, but business is grim.

“I have waited 10 days for this place to open so I can buy pieces for my brother’s costume,” said Ali Wangnoo, 23. “But I don’t actually know whether his wedding is going to happen. Kashmir is a mess.”

Mohammed Yunus, the shop owner, said he had been closed for three weeks until Tuesday when the curfew was relaxed for just four hours.

Such conditions for ordinary people mean the tourism industry has also been decimated.

Srinagar boasts Mughal gardens, a mild summer climate and elegant houseboats sitting on Lake Dal in front of mist-wreathed mountains.

Before the rebellion against Indian rule erupted in 1989, travellers from around the world were drawn to Kashmir’s culture and scenery.

Many returned after India and Pakistan, who have fought two wars over control of the region, began peace talks in 2003 and as militant attacks dropped dramatically.

But any optimism has disappeared with more than 100 civilians killed since June 11 across Kashmir as security forces fire live rounds at stone-throwing anti-India protesters.

“On the 600-700 houseboats there is hardly one tourist. I haven’t had a single guest since the violence broke out in June,” said Rashid Dongola, 55, owner of the Hilton Kashmir houseboat.

As soon as the curfew is lifted, a few hand-paddled boats cross the serene lake carrying vegetables to market. Scores of boats laden with shawls and colourful papier-mache boxes used to vie for tourists’ attention.

Now there are none.

“This should be high season for us,” said Dongola, sitting in his houseboat’s grand wood-panelled interior. “My boat is rotting here and I can’t afford repairs.”

With schools shut for months and hospitals running short of supplies, the price of living under the curfew is high. But few Kashmiris doubt their cause.

“We know what we want,” said Sajjad, who runs a convenience store in the old town. “In the cause of Azadi (freedom) we choose to face the bullets, and we give up the chance of living an easy life.”

India holds its breath for divisive Ayodhya ruling

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LUCKNOW, India – India has ramped up security ahead of a high court ruling Friday on a bitter religious dispute responsible for some of the bloodiest sectarian violence since independence.

Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers stand alert in New Delhi

The decision on the future of the Ayodhya mosque site — and even more so the reaction to it — poses a crucial test for India and its image as an emerging global player and a beacon of stability in a volatile region.

India’s home minister P. Chidambaram appealed for calm Wednesday ahead of the politically charged judgement.

“It is the government’s earnest hope that all sections of society will maintain peace, order, harmony and tranquillity,” he said in New Delhi.

“It would be inappropriate to reach any conclusion that one side has won or the other side has lost” following the ruling that will be extremely complex and is bound to be appealed to the Supreme Court, he added.

In 1992 the demolition of the 16th-century Babri Mosque in Ayodhya by Hindu activists sparked riots that killed more than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, and propelled India’s Hindu nationalists into the political mainstream.

Hindus say the mosque had been built by the Moghul emperor Babur on the site of a temple marking the birthplace of the Hindu warrior god Ram in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Ever since the destruction of the mosque 18 years ago the 47-acre (19-hectare) site has been cordoned off with barbed wire and steel fencing and guarded by troops.

Now a three-judge bench in the state capital Lucknow will rule on ownership of the site between Hindu and Muslim groups.

A senior Uttar Pradesh home department official told AFP in Lucknow more than 200,000 police, paramilitary and other security personnel had been deployed across the state ahead of the ruling.

“Processions of all kind have been prohibited not only in Ayodhya but also in 44 sensitive districts,” added Brij Lal, additional director-general of police.

Muslims called for calm.

“We now wait for Friday’s verdict but no one should celebrate victory or raise protests against the ruling,” said Zafaryab Jilani, lawyer for the Babri Masjid Action Committee, which wants the site handed to Muslims, India’s largest religious minority.

The government and numerous religious leaders have urged both Hindus and Muslims to accept the court ruling, no matter which way it goes.

“The way the country handles this — the aftermath — will have a profound impact on the evolution of our country,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said earlier in the month.

The radical Vishwa Hindu Parishad or VHP insisted that the government would have to give the site to the Hindus.

“The Indian government must hand over the (Ayodhya) site to Hindus through an act of parliament because it is linked to faith or else this dispute will never end,” the VHP’s national spokesman Prakash Sharma told AFP.

The drive to build a Ram temple on the ruins of the razed mosque remains a key political aim of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is the main opposition party in parliament.

India’s chief Muslim cleric, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, echoed the calls for calm, but also criticised hardline Hindu groups for shunning efforts to find an out-of-court settlement.

“One can only strike a compromise with those who want to resolve the dispute through sincere talks,” Bukhari told AFP.

Mahant Gyan Das, a senior member of the Hindu trust seeking to build a Ram temple on the site, insisted that any violence resulting from the ruling would not come from the people of Ayodhya.

The government has taken out newspaper ads warning against any knee-jerk reactions that might inflame communal tensions.

“There should be no attempt whatsoever made by any section of the people to provoke any other section,” the published appeal said.

India has avoided any major outbreak of Hindu-Muslim violence since riots in Gujarat in 2002.

The government is especially keen to keep a lid on any unrest ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, which begin on October 3, and the visit of US President Barack Obama in November.

EU concerned over violence

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By: Kamran Yousaf

ISLAMABAD: The European Union (EU) has expressed grave concerns over the violence in Indian Kashmir, calling for an early resolution for the decades-old problem of poisoned relations between Pakistan and India.

Kashmiri people shout anti-India slogans during the funeral of a Kashmiri youth, Fayaz Ahmad, in Srinagar September 18, 2010.

“We are very concerned about the violence in Kashmir and we have conveyed this to India through diplomatic channels,” the EU Ambassador to Pakistan Jan De Kok told reporters here on Wednesday.

The EU, for the first time, publicly aired its concern since the beginning of anti-India demonstrations in June this year in Kashmir, which have already killed over 100 people.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Belgian Ambassador Hans Christian Kint, the EU envoy urged the two countries to find peaceful ways to resolve the Kashmir problem. However, he made it clear that the 27-nation bloc did not intend to mediate between Pakistan and India on Kashmir issue.

Pakistan also stepped up diplomatic efforts to put pressure on India.

On Tuesday Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi urged the United States to pressure India over Kashmir, saying that recent unrest showed that New Delhi, and not Islamabad, was to blame for trouble in the Himalayan territory.

He is likely to meet his Indian counterpart SM Krishna later this month in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session. Foreign office officials say the foreign minister will certainly take up the issue of renewed violence in Kashmir with his Indian counterpart.

Meanwhile, the Belgian Ambassador, whose country currently holds the EU Presidency, said Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani will attend the Asia-Europe summit to be held in Brussels on October 4 and 5. The summit will be attended by 48 heads of states and governments to discuss a host of issues confronting the two regions and the world at large, the ambassador added.

He said the meeting of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan will also take place in Brussels on October 14 and 15 to discuss the country’s needs in the wake of devastating floods.

32 schoolchildren die as van falls into Jhelum River

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By Syed Abbas Gardezi

MUZAFFARABAD: At least, 32 schoolchildren were feared dead and four others sustained serious injuries when a school van fell into the Jhelum River at Garhi Dopatta on the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar Road, about 25 kilometres from here on Tuesday morning at 9:10 am, a police spokesman said.

The severely injured van driver and four children were rescued, while 18 bodies were recovered from the river by the divers of Pakistan Army, Rescue 1122 and the locals, Senior Superintendent Police (SSP), Muzaffarabad, Ch Ghulam Akbar, told The News. The search for the remaining bodies was in progress, he added.

Giving details of the tragic accident, the SSP said that the school van (Mazda No NWFP-8871), with about 30-38 children on board, was on way to a human concern school in Garhi Dopatta town to attend an ‘Eid Milan’ party when it plunged into the river.

He said the van met the accident after getting out of control of the driver, Muhammad Shafi, s/o Maskeen, due to overspeeding. The schoolchildren belonged to different localities of Garhi Dopatta.

The police rescue team, led by the AJK Secretary Khawaja Muhammad Saleem Bismil, SSP Ch Ghulam Akber, Rescue 1122 and rescue teams of the Army, as well as Secretary Transport AJK Zia Ahmed Khawaja and officials of Muzaffarabad district administration rushed to the scene immediately after the accident.

The four injured children and the van driver were rushed to hospital. The wreckage of the van was recovered from the river. The parents of the children demanded of the government to take strict action against the school administration because the accident occurred due to their negligence.

Mohammad Ramzan, father of four ill-fated children, told this scribe that so far body of none of his four kids, including three daughters and a son, could be taken out. When the mother of four ill-fated children came to know that her children had died in the accident, she rushed to the scene and plunged into the river and was killed, said eyewitnesses.

Meanwhile, Azad Jammu and Kashmir Prime Minister Sardar Attique Ahmad Khan expressed profound grief over the accident and directed the rescue teams to continue relief work in the area. He also directed concerned authorities to provide compensation to the families of victims within 24 hours.

The children who died in the accident include Noor Ramzan, Daud Ahmad, Hira Ramzan and Arooj Ramzan (children of Mohammad Ramzan), Sajid, s/o Ghulam Rasool Mughal, Sadia, d/o Jamil, Amana Iftikhar, d/o Mohammad Iftikhar, Saher, d/o Mohmmad Shabbir, Nouman, s/o Nazeer, Nazeer, s/o Abdul Rehman, Tayyba, d/o Saddiqui, Sariya, d/o Khursheed, Faisa Siddiqui, d/o Mohammad Siddiqui, Shahzad, s/o Munawar Khan, residents of Kanina, Hamid, s/o Muhammad Saeed, and Nabeel, s/o Ghulam Rasool Qureshi, residents of Khad pura. The names of two children could not be ascertained.

APP adds: President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani on Tuesday expressed their deep grief and sorrow over the tragic deaths of young schoolchildren in a road accident in Azad Kashmir.