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Posts Tagged ‘Jammu and Kashmir

Halloween 31 October, Kashmir Black Day on 27th

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Kashmiris on both sides of the Cease Fire Line (CFL) and all across the world will observe A Black Day on October 27, to convey to India that despite state terrorism they reject its illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir.

It was on October 27 in 1947 when Indian troops invaded Kashmir in clear violation of the partition plan of the Sub-continent and against the Kashmiris’ aspirations.

Call for the observance of the Day has been given by the All Parties Hurriyat Conference Chairman, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

The day will be marked with total shutdown in Occupied State of Jammu & Kashmir (OSJK) and a march towards the United Nations Observers’ Office in Srinagar to draw the world attention towards the fact that India continues to deny the Kashmiri people their inalienable right of Self-Determination. Rallies in support of Kashmiris’ liberation struggle will be held in Muzaffarabad and the world capitals.

BJP supporters vow to march to Kashmir

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Thousands of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters massed on a bridge to the disputed Kashmir region on Tuesday as officials sought to stop a flag-raising ceremony that could spark violence.


Workers of India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hold national flags and shout slogans during a protest on a bridge at Madhopur, in the northern Indian state of Punjab

Police faced off with flag-waving BJP workers as authorities sealed routes into Kashmir to thwart the planned raising of the national flag in the state that has been racked by unrest by Muslim separatists opposed to Indian rule.

Police forced about 7,000 marchers on to buses and drove them away, police sources said, while the remaining 2,500 protesters attempting to cross the border from the Jammu region into Kashmir faced arrest or detention.

Officials in Kashmir fear that the symbolic show of Indian cental control over the disputed region could reignite separatist protests in which more than 100 people were killed last year.

The BJP has gained political ground through recent pressure on the ruling coalition struggling with graft and it hopes to show the government’s weakness on Kashmir, a potent symbol of India’s territorial integrity, with state elections looming.

But the main oppostion party risks a backlash. The government has criticised it for “divisive politics” and its nationalistic rhetoric may alienate secular Indians and other political parties.

“There is no justification whatsoever to push a political agenda that will certainly affect peace and law and order in the state of Jammu and Kashmir,” Home Minister P. Chidamabaram said in a statement.

“It would be most unfortunate if the BJP leaders defy the restrictions placed by the state government or deliberately cause a breach of the peace.”

The state government, backed by the ruling Congress party, sealed all road links into the state, media reported, a day after BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley were detained at the airport in the main Kashmiri city of Srinagar and sent back out.

Senior BJP officials have said raising the national flag in Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir, to celebrate India’s Republic Day on Wednesday, was a patriotic right, and have vowed to push on with their march to the city.

“We have started march towards J&K … We are marching in a group of 500 people holding tricolour (flag)… Huge police presence on the other side of the bridge,” Swaraj, the BJP leader in the lower house of parliament, posted on Twitter.

Republic Day has traditionally been a lightning rod for anti-Indian protests in the Himalayan region which is at the heart of hostilities between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, who both claim it.

“The (BJP’s) aggressive and adamant stand … betrays a dangerous inability to understand the subtlety and calibration needed in a place like Jammu and Kashmir,” the Indian Express newspaper said in an editorial.

“Aggressive postures aimed at little more than self-serving polarisation will do no good to any cause, least of all one proclaimed in the name of this country’s unity.”

Militants backed by Pakistan have been battling Indian security forces in Muslim-majority Kashmir since 1989. Tens of thosuands of people have been killed in the violence.

India and China talk trade deals and friendship, but they are bitter rivals

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Like tectonic plates grinding up against each other in the Himalayas, China and India are locked into a rivalry that is going to set the global agenda for decades.

For three days this week, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited New Delhi, signed trade deals, dined with Indian politicians and spouted the rhetoric of friendship.

“China and India are partners for cooperation, not rivals in competition,” he told an Indian business conference, after a Chinese trade delegation signed 48 deals worth more than US$16-billion.

“There is enough space in the world for the development of China and India,” Mr. Wen insisted.

But beneath the polite diplomacy and mutual compliments, India and China remain wary of each other, locked in a volatile Cold War-style rivalry that is filled with conflict, mutual distrust and resentment.

As their economies grow, the world’s two most populous nations – home to two-fifths of the global population – are competing for energy resources, food and opportunities. They have conflicting global aspirations; a 4,000 kilometre-long disputed border, a history of war and a decades-old struggle for regional influence.

When Mr. Wen arrived in New Delhi on Wednesday, Chinese engineers in Tibet were blasting through the last part of a mountain tunnel to link the last isolated county in China to the mainland’s main highway system.

China celebrated the feat as a nation-building marvel and broadcast the event on national television.

Indian newscasts, however, noted the new tunnel, in a region bordering the disputed northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, will now enable China to rush troops to an area, which Beijing claims is really part of Tibet.

In almost the same breath, Indian experts also note China’s stranglehold on Tibet gives it control of most of the headwaters of India’s main rivers.

New Delhi has long feared China may one day dam and divert those waters to replenish its parched western provinces and China has talked recently of diverting up to 200 billion cubic metres of water annually to the Yellow River from the Brahmaputra River, which enters India at Arunachal Pradesh, before flowing on to Assam and into Bangladesh.

“Simmering tensions over territory, overlapping spheres of influence, resource scarcity and rival alliance relationships ensure that relations between the two rising Asian giants will be characterized more by competition and rivalry than cooperation for a long time to come,” warned Mohan Malik, a professor at the Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies in Honolulu.

“The main objective of China’s Asia policy is to prevent the rise of a peer competitor to challenge its status as the Asia-Pacific’s sole ‘Middle Kingdom’,” he said. “As an old Chinese saying goes, ‘One mountain cannot accommodate two tigers’.”

The stark discrepancies between democratic India and authoritarian China were on display in New Delhi just two days before Mr. Wen arrived. In an effort to warn off Tibetan protesters preparing to demonstrate against Mr. Wen, a nervous Chinese ambassador, Zhang Yan, told reporters bilateral relations with India are “very fragile, very easy to be damaged and very difficult to repair.”

“They need special care in the information age,” he said. “To achieve this, the [Indian] government should provide guidance to the public to avoid a war of words.”

India’s Foreign Minister, Nirupama Rao, responded coolly but politely saying China has nothing to fear from India’s “vibrant and noisy democracy.”

Two events have permanently strained relations between Beijing and New Delhi – China’s 1950 invasion and occupation of Tibet and China’s defeat of India in a brief 1962 border war.

India now plays host to more than 120,000 Tibetan refugees, including the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 following a failed uprising.

China brands the Dalai Lama a separatist and insists he is using his base in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamsala to fuel rebellion inside Tibet.

After riots broke out in Tibet in March 2009, China’s government-controlled news media were filled with anti-Indian rhetoric calling New Delhi “reckless and arrogant” and warning India not “to misjudge the situation as it did in 1962,” when China successfully staged a month-long war against India all along their Himalayan border.

India still lives in the shadow of that conflict, resenting her defeat and complaining China illegally occupies 26,500 square kilometres of Indian territory.

“The wounds of the 1962 Chinese invasion have been kept open by Beijing’s public and assertive claims to Indian territories,” said Brahma Chellaney of New Delhi’s Center for Policy Research. “China continues to occupy one-fifth of the original state of Jammu and Kashmir. Its recent claim over the entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and aggressive patrolling of the border region signify that China is not interested in maintaining the status quo.”

As a result, India has moved two army divisions close to its Himalayan border and built three new airstrips in the foothills.

“The India-China strategic dissonance is rooted not only in their contrasting political ideals and quiet rivalry but also in Beijing’s relentless pursuit of a classical, Sun Tzu-style balance-of-power strategy,” Prof. Chellaney said. “In order to avert the rise of a peer rival in Asia, China has sought to strategically tie down India south of the Himalayas.”

India has long resented China’s close ties to its traditional rival Pakistan, arming Pakistan’s military, helping Islamabad build nuclear weapons and promoting Pakistani claims to Indian territory.

But New Delhi has watched in frustration recently as China also increased its strategic assistance to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma [Myanmar] – countries India always regarded as part of its sphere of influence.

Nearly 90% of Chinese arms sales go to countries located in the Indian Ocean region. In addition, Beijing has helped build ports in Gwadar, Pakistan, and Humbantota, Sri Lanka, as well as in Burma and Bangladesh, in what analysts have called a “string of pearls” strategy to build naval bases and military listening posts across the Indian Ocean.

The Chinese-built Gwadar port and naval base, near the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz and close to Pakistan’s border with Iran, is one of the world’s largest deep-water ports and could allow China to park submarines in India’s backyard.

It may also serve as the terminus for an energy pipeline taking oil from the Gulf region, through Pakistan, directly to China.

A similar pipeline is planned from a Chinese-built port on Burma’s Ramree Island to transport oil from Africa and the Middle East to the Chinese province of Yunnan.

“This effort to encircle India by sea with strategically positioned naval stations from Hainan in the east, to Gwadar in the west, and on land by promoting bogus Pakistani claims that undermine India’s territorial integrity, takes the ‘Great Game’ to a new and more dangerous level,” warned Jaswant Singh, India’s former defence and foreign affairs minister.

China’s rising economic and military power is driving formerly non-aligned India into seeking a loose alliance with the United States and its Asian partners (Japan, South Korea, Australia) to counterbalance Beijing.

But New Delhi has also sought to engage China, promoting its white-collar, services-led economic growth as a natural counterpoint to China’s blue-collar, manufacturing-driven economy.

Bilateral trade between the two Asian rivals has surged from a mere US$262-million in 1991 to an expected US$60-billion this year.

During Mr. Wen’s visit, the two countries set a bilateral trade target of US$100-billion-a-year by 2015.

But sharing their new wealth has also produced new tensions. China is India’s biggest trade partner. But that trade is skewed heavily in China’s favour, with China exporting almost twice as much to India as India sells to China.

Nearly 70% of India’s exports are low-cost raw materials compared with China’s more expensive manufactured goods.

It is no coincidence India has initiated more anti-dumping complaints with the World Trade Organization against China than anyone else.

“A Sino-Indian rivalry in southern Asia and the northern Indian Ocean may well be a dominant feature of Asian geopolitics in the 21st century,” Prof. Malik said.

National Post

pgoodspeed@nationalpost.com

Govt taps about 5,000 people’s phones on average

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NEW DELHI: Telephone calls of about 5,000 people are being recorded by central security agencies daily as part of security and preventive measures.

Government sources said on an average telephones of about 5,000 people are being kept under surveillance by intelligence agencies suspecting their linkages with terror activities, hawala operators and members of banned organisations.

Telephones of a number of people involved in various economic offences are also being monitored.

Sources said that conversations of terrorists and insurgent outfits in Jammu and Kashmir, Northeast and the banned CPI (Maoist) are mostly under the scanner of intelligence agencies.

“A lot of times the phone tapping is done for only sixty days. But when it involves persons who are facing any criminal case or are under the scanner of investigating agencies, their phones are kept under surveillance for a longer period,” a senior Home Ministry official said.

As per official procedures, the phone tapping by intelligence agencies is done with the consent of the Union Home Secretary . The government can authorise tapping for 60 days which can be extended again as per needs.

The sources said that emails are also being monitored by government agencies after getting the consent of the service providers.

Sources said that tapping of telephone conversations of leading corporate lobbyist Niira Radia, whose name has cropped up in the 2G Spectrum row , with several influential persons were authorised by the government.

Growing fascist intolerance

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Praful Bidwai

Activists of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Mahila Morcha (women’s front) attacked writer Arundhati Roy’s residence in Delhi this past Sunday. Like the Islamic extremists who recently chopped off the hands of a Christian teacher in Kerala, this marks a new low in the destructive activities of the forces of bigotry and intolerance in India. India has slipped far from the constitutional ideal of a liberal democracy which genuinely respects the freedom of expression and the right of dissent.

The Morcha obnoxiously rationalised its attack as a protest against Roy’s remarks about azaadi in Kashmir. The attack, it said, was timed to coincide with the birth anniversary of former Home Minister Vallabhbhai Patel, whom the Hindutva forces are trying to appropriate. But Patel had banned the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s parent, after Gandhi’s assassination, and warned Hindutva supporters against trying to suborn the Indian state.

The events leading to the attack follow a definite pattern. First, Roy’s remarks on Kashmir are distorted to mean that she favours India’s break-up. What she said was that the status of Jammu and Kashmir is not settled despite its Maharaja’s October 1947 accession to India.

This is something that many Kashmiris, including most recently, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, have often reiterated. Indeed, the Shimla agreement of 1972, and efforts by various Indian governments to reach a settlement on Kashmir with Pakistan, testify to the existence of an issue or dispute. Roy also spoke of Kashmir’s brutal military occupation. Over 400,000 security and police forces are present in the Valley, and some 20,000 deaths have occurred over two decades.

Second, the BJP demands that the government sue Roy – equating her with hardline separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani – for sedition. By saying it’s examining the issue, the Centre partly legitimises the repugnant idea that Roy’s sober reflection on Kashmir was meant to create “disaffection” against the state. This erases the vital distinction between remarks which are controversial and contentious, even disagreeable, but acceptable in a democracy, and those which constitute a direct, explicit incitement to violence.

Three, mercifully, the Centre drops the idea of prosecuting Roy, but sections of the media call Roy an “impostor” and a “traitor”. TV channels send outdoor broadcasting vans to Roy’s residence ahead of the BJP mob. They become an accessory to a criminal attack and trample on the fundamental right to free expression – in pursuit of higher Television Rating Points!
This is a repetition of what some TV channels did last June when Roy’s house was first attacked. The groundwork for this hysteria against Roy was laid with the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Then, a Right-wing TV anchor known for his jingoism screamed: “Arundhati Roy, where are you? We want to tell you we hate you ….” This is akin to the fascist targeting of dissidents and critics through calumny. Roy’s crime was that she exposed and criticised nationalist hysteria.

The Supreme Court too had punished Roy for contempt of court for saying, in the Narmada dam context, that the judiciary complacently believes that those who build large dams respect the constitution and the human rights of displaced people. This interpretation of contempt of court, against which truth is no defence, and which elevates the higher judiciary to divinity, victimises a writer with the courage to speak the truth about the state’s excesses and destructive projects.

One doesn’t have to agree with Roy one hundred per cent to say this. I disagree, for instance, with her analysis of the Naxalite movement in Chhattisgarh. But I unconditionally defend her right to express herself. The attack on Roy comes just when the Hindu Right has launched a two-pronged offensive upon free speech and democracy. The first is a campaign against books, plays and films which it dislikes for arbitrary, irrational reasons. It wants them banned for offending the sentiments of “the majority community”. But it doesn’t represent that community. This has culminated in the Shiv Sena’s successful attempt to get Rohinton Mistry’s fine novel removed from the reading list of Bombay University’s English literature course.

There’s a long lineage to such assaults on artistic freedom and scholarly writings – witness the parivar’s many raids: on Sahmat’s Ayodhya exhibition in Delhi, on the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune (for its indirect association with a book critical of Shivaji), and on M F Hussain’s gumpha (cave) in Gujarat. The parivar has driven Hussain, India’s best-known modern painter, into exile. Over the years, India has “absorbed” such offences against freedom and tolerance as normal, without acknowledging that they degrade its democracy.
Once intolerance by those who claim to speak for “the majority”, for “the real India” (as if there’s only one!), for “Indian culture”, for “Bharatiya Nari”, for whoever, comes to be accepted as tolerable, we destroy the soul of tolerance and punish those with whom we might disagree, but who cause no harm to others. We become numb towards the value of freedom for social life and the health of the public sphere. A society which cannot countenance multiple ways of looking at reality, or diversity of cultures and beliefs, and which cannot debate differences without feeling paranoid, isn’t healthy.

Tolerance and respect for difference and diversity are essential attributes of democracy. India is being driven by the Right towards a devalued half-democracy and a majoritarian – not a free, egalitarian and enlightened – political system. The Hindu Right’s second campaign aims to shield some of its most violent elements, implicated in a well-organised network which has recently conducted numerous terrorist bombings of Muslim dargahs and mosques.

The latest disclosure here comes from the charge-sheet filed in the Ajmer dargah blasts of October 2007, which killed three persons. The Rajasthan Anti-Terrorism Squad names five accused, of whom four are associated with the RSS. Suspicion centres particularly on the RSS executive council member Indresh Kumar. He organised a secret meeting in 2005 which discussed the strategy for conducting the Ajmer blast. He was in regular contact with Sunil Joshi, believed to have made and triggered the bomb with Harshad Solanki. Solanki has just been arrested. He’s a prime accused in Gujarat’s Best Bakery case – an ominous connection. Indresh Kumar and other RSS members are connected with the shadowy Jai Vande Mataram – itself linked to Abhinav Bharat, which was behind the September 2006 Malegaon blasts and Hyderabad’s May 2007 Mecca Masjid bombings.

The RSS has responded to these events by deciding to launch nationwide “protests” (read, a campaign of bullying) against “a political conspiracy” to link it to terrorist activities. If the link is indeed established, the RSS’s “nationalist” credentials would collapse like a house of cards, with consequences similar to those in 1948-49, when it was accused of involvement in Gandhi’s assassination.

These are despicable tactics on the part of an organisation which believes it’s legitimate to kill the religious minorities to fulfil its narrow political goals, but which also hides behind labels like “cultural nationalism” to deny it has a political agenda. The Hindu Right’s terrorism is no less pernicious than Islamic-jihadist extremism. It’s often more insidious – when it’s treated with kid-gloves by the state and successfully infiltrates the police. Punishing the Hindutva terror network is a litmus test for India’s democracy. It must not fail it.

Bullets and stones

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By: Asif Ezdi

When Abdul Ahad Jan, a Kashmiri police official, hurled a shoe at Omar Abdullah at a ceremony in Srinagar to celebrate India’s Independence Day, he became an instant hero. Ahad also waved a black flag and chanted, “We want azadi,” The Indian authorities immediately declared him to be mentally disturbed but thousands of Kashmiris descended on his home village to congratulate his family. Women showered flowers on Jan’s wife and kissed and hugged her.

Omar Abdullah tried to laugh off the incident, saying that hurling a shoe was better than hurling a stone. But for the Kashmiris this is no laughing matter. They have been facing not shoes – or stones – but bullets from an occupying force which has been given the license to use lethal force to keep demonstrators off the streets and enforce curfews. Since June this year, when the current wave of protests began, nearly 60 Kashmiris have been killed, most of them youngsters and teenagers, some mere children. Scores have been injured, some maimed for life.
Abdullah’s Indian masters are also unlikely to have been amused by the shoe-throwing incident. They have been rattled by the mass scale of the demonstrations and especially the breadth of the support the protesters enjoy from the general public. Besides the youth, women have also been demonstrating on the streets with their pots and pans and have joined in throwing stones, the only “weapon” available to the unarmed population, at the hated occupation force. The New York Times wrote on 12 August that Delhi has been facing an intifada-like popular revolt against the Indian military presence that includes not just stone-throwing young men but their sisters, mothers, uncles and grandparents.

Indian officials have tried to belittle the scale and significance of the Kashmiri protest. Contrary to all evidence, Home Minister Chidambaram has said the protests were confined to Srinagar and “perhaps some other towns.” India has also pointed its finger at Pakistan for instigating the mass movement. Chidambaram said on 30 June that Lashkar-e-Taiba was behind the mass protests. In a statement in Parliament on 6 August, he went further and hinted that official agencies in Pakistan could be behind the protests. “Pakistan appears to have altered its strategy in influencing events in Jammu and Kashmir,” Chidambaram said. “It is possible that they believe that relying upon civilian unrest will pay them better dividends.”

At a meeting of the Congress Working Committee on 17 August, leaders of India’s ruling party expressed worry at what they saw as a “new chapter” in the history of separatism in Kashmir. There are good reasons for Delhi to be worried because the Kashmiri intifada signals the complete failure of India’s attempt spanning six decades to give legitimacy to its occupation of Kashmir. It also illustrates the truth of the maxim that what has been won through force and fraud can only be kept through more force and more fraud.

The response of the Manmohan Singh government to the mass protests has been to come up with some old tricks. On India’s Independence Day, he invited anyone “who abjures violence” for talks, offered greater autonomy to the state “within the ambit of the Indian constitution” and promised more jobs for the youth and more money for development. These “offers” were quickly rejected by the Hurriyat leaders who pointed out that their struggle is for azadi, not for autonomy, jobs or money.

In his speech on India’s Independence Day last year, Manmohan Singh had claimed that people of all areas of Jammu and Kashmir had participated in elections to the State Legislative Assembly in 2008 and the Lok Sabha in 2009. That was proof, Manmohan asserted, that there is no place for separatist thought in Jammu and Kashmir. The current resurgence in the Kashmiri movement for azadi has now proved this to have been an empty boast. As the New York Times noted, Kashmir’s demand for self-determination is sharper today than it has been at perhaps any other time in the state’s troubled history.

Clearly India has failed completely in winning the hearts and minds of the Kashmiris. But the silence of the international community at India’s bloody response to peaceful protests shows that it may be winning the diplomatic battle. The only significant voice raised against the excesses of the Indian occupation forces was a bland statement by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressing concern at the situation in Kashmir and calling on all to exercise the utmost restraint. Ban quickly backtracked when India protested.

The US and other major Western countries, which are usually quick to denounce human rights violations elsewhere, have been mum over Indian brutalities in Kashmir to avoid riling Delhi. Before becoming president, it is true, Obama considered appointing a special envoy on Kashmir, but he quickly gave up the idea when Delhi rejected the proposal out of hand. Obama’s interest in Kashmir, short-lived as it was, in any case did not arise from a concern for the rights of the Kashmiri people. Rather it was aimed at reducing Pakistan-India tensions so that Islamabad might be more forthcoming in responding to Washington’s demands for the deployment of the Pakistan army on the western frontier in support of the US war in Afghanistan.

The US is a strategic partner of India and has been assiduously cultivating the country. It is therefore naïve on the part of Pakistani leaders to keep seeking Washington’s mediation on Kashmir. We also need to realise that any intervention by Washington would be in favour of cementing the status quo. What we should be doing instead, loudly and publicly, is to urge Washington and the international community to use their leverage to press Delhi to end its human rights abuses in Kashmir.

At the same time, we will have to redefine our own Kashmir policy. Musharraf’s sellout in the back channel talks with India from 2005 to 2007 caused a setback to the Kashmiri freedom struggle. Foreign Minister Qureshi’s statement last March that Pakistan was reverting to its old stand on Kashmir was reassuring because it suggested that this government would repudiate the deal that Musharraf was negotiating.

But in his talks with Krishna in July, Qureshi gave a different message, apparently at Washington’s behest. According to the Indian side, he told Krishna that Pakistan regarded the “gains” made in back-channel talks under Musharraf as “important and useful” and would not put them “at naught.” The Indians see this concession as a major plus from the otherwise unproductive meeting.

The government would do well to clarify its position on this issue. Otherwise, it will lay itself open to the charge that it is trying to keep the Pakistani public in the dark on this important matter. An unambiguous statement from the government that it rejects the deal under which Musharraf was prepared to barter away the right of the Kashmiris to self-determination would also give a boost to their movement for azadi.

The government has so far been very timid in expressing support for the Kashmiri intifada. During his nine-day junket in France and Britain, Zardari did not utter the K-word even once. He may be forgiven because his interests and priorities lie in another field. But the reticence of the prime minister, the foreign minister and especially the Foreign Ministry is indefensible. If we are serious about extending political, moral and diplomatic support to the right of the Kashmiri people to self-determination, as we keep saying, the government will have to come out boldly in support of those who are braving Indian bullets to demand this right and mobilise international support for their demands.

Not only the government but also Parliament, political parties, the media and the civil society have a responsibility in this regard. The least they can do is to break their silence and proclaim their solidarity with the unarmed Kashmiri men, women and children who have decided to take their destiny in their own hands and are defying brute force.

Singh appeals for peace in Indian Kashmir

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NEW DELHI – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed Tuesday to Kashmiris “to give peace a chance” after almost daily anti-India street protests that have claimed at least 50 lives since June.


Kashmiri men pray for those killed in police firings in the past two months of unrest, in Khunmow on …

“I am convinced the only way forward in Jammu and Kashmir is along the path of dialogue and reconciliation,” Singh said in a televised address to an all-party meeting called in New Delhi to discuss the restive region.

“I appeal to the people of Jammu and Kashmir to give peace a chance.”

The appeal was the first from the Indian premier since violence brought life to a standstill in Kashmir’s towns and cities after a teenage student was killed by a police teargas shell on June 11.

At least 50 people — mostly young men or teenagers — have died in the violence, most of them as a result of police firing, in the deadliest spate of protests to shake the Muslim-majority region for two years.

The prime minister’s call came as Indian security forces continued to enforce a strict curfew in most parts of Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir, to prevent protests against New Delhi’s rule.

India and Pakistan each hold part of Kashmir but claim it in full. The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought two wars over the region since independence in 1947.

Indian officials say Pakistan-backed hardline separatists are behind the latest unrest, but locals say it is the spontaneous result of years of pent-up frustration and alleged abuses by police and paramilitary forces.

The prime minister urged protesters to end the rolling series of protests and return to schools and colleges.

“I ask their parents: ‘what future is there for Kashmir if your children are not educated’?” Singh said, speaking in a mixture of Hindi and Urdu.

“The cycle of violence must now come to an end (and) we must ensure that no innocent life is lost again,” Singh said, but added that the government “cannot allow the turmoil to continue.”

Singh conceded that sweeping powers given to security forces in Kashmir was widely resented by local residents in the Muslim-majority region which borders Pakistan.

“We will help to accelerate the process of strengthening and expanding the Kashmir police so that they can function independently and effectively within the shortest possible time,” Singh added.

Decades of on-off dialogue about the status of the disputed territory has made no tangible progress and unemployment is running high, especially among young people.

Singh announced a high-level expert group led by former central bank governor C. Rangarajan to formulate a jobs plan for Jammu and Kashmir to improve the “employability” of youths there.

The group is due to report in three months.

Singh added he was “optimistic” about the future.

“If all sides show wisdom and restraint, I believe we can put the bitterness and pain of the recent past behind us and breathe new life in to the peace process,” he said.

Human rights excesses in IHK highlighted in London

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London, Dr Angana Chatterji, co-convenor of the International Peoples Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Jammu and Kashmir narrated human rights excesses in Occupied Kashmir and called for improving the monitoring of humanitarian situation in the valley.

Dr Angana Chatterji, while addressing a composite gathering at Kashmir Centre London, said that the disturbing concept of zero tolerance for non-violent dissent evolved round fear, surveillance of the ordinary Kashmiri irrespective of age or gender, discipline and punishment.

This has proved to be a sustained and widespread offensive with mass and extra judicial killings in Kashmir by the military and paramilitary institutions as brought out in evidence in the report ‘Buried Evidence’ by the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian administered Kashmir, she added.

Dr Chatterji reported that the disproportionate number of special forces in the occupied territory gave the impression that the armed forces were more powerful than the occupation authorities and that the reality in Kashmir was one of militarised controls and that Kashmir was not a dispute but a conflict zone.

She stressed the importance of cultivating alliances with credible institutions and organisations, adding these needed to be formed and developed as there was at present no monitoring was going on in Jammu and Kashmir, therefore, no sustained visibility.

Dr Chatterji emphasised that there needed to be a sustained outcry from the international media and that the international community needed to play a proactive role in establishing alliances with organisations, which were seen to be acceptable.

Representatives from Amnesty International, the Economist, Conciliation Resources, Asian Affairs and community activists also spoke on the occasion.

At the end, the Executive Director of Kashmir Centre London, Professor Nazir Ahmad Shawl presented his book ‘Speaking Silence’ to her.

The ghosts of Kashmir

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Aijaz Zaka Syed

It looks like only yesterday that Omar Abdullah was elected amid much fanfare and crowned as Jammu and Kashmir chief minister. Rahul Gandhi, probably India’s next prime minister, personally campaigned for Omar. When Omar and Rahul hugged each other amid much cheering and sloganeering in Srinagar, we were all euphoric.

It felt rather good to identify with the two young leaders representing a new India. No wonder every television network vied with each other to have Omar as a guest in their primetime slot. The guy has the gift of the gab, even if he isn’t in the league of his legendary grandfather, or even his doctor father known for his weakness for good life.

Today, India’s youngest chief minister is fighting for survival. He was struggling for words in his rather sombre interview with NDTV’s Barkha Dutt this week. Omar looks like his own ghost, a paler version of his flamboyant self. Gone are the gravitas and chutzpah. I almost feel sorry for him as he assured Barkha he doesn’t have “time to introspect” if he has made “any mistakes.”

But introspect Omar Abdullah must: why’s Kashmir burning and how he squandered the goodwill and euphoria he earned himself only two summers ago? The army is back on the streets of Srinagar after 15 years in a desperate attempt to rein in violent protests and clashes with security forces that have rocked the state for months now.

Thanks to the endless curfew and the army’s deployment, the government may have managed to enforce some semblance of order. But this uneasy quiet could be the proverbial lull before the storm.

Under the watchful gaze of the army, the unrest may appear to have settled down for now. But as Barkha says, “It’s like trying to cover a boiling cauldron of water – sooner or later, it will spill over.”

Kashmir increasingly looks like Gaza, even if the comparison isn’t politically correct, with angry, stone-pelting kids and youth clashing with the security forces. Since January, scores of young boys have died in police firing, one after another, constantly rocking the valley and bringing thousands of people out on the streets.

In fact, the army was brought out on the streets only after Delhi realised the situation had gotten out of the hands of the hopelessly clueless chief minister. Even as the angry Kashmiris protested over dying youth and more died in the process, Omar talked about the “war of ideas” being fought on the streets of Srinagar, defending the killings by blaming the protesters. “They’re provoking security forces by pelting stones,” he pointed out to the BBC.

Provocative the stone-pelting protesters may be. But is this how you respond to protests in a democratic society? Violent demonstrations of this kind are hardly unusual in other parts of the world’s largest democracy. Not just stone pelting but from burning buses to derailing trains to roughing up public figures, just about everything is de rigeur. No protester is shot dead though. At least, I don’t recall anyone dying in police firing in recent memory.

So why’s this honour exclusive to Kashmiris? Why are we ever ready to respond to the slightest provocations with bullets? When will we realise that with every bullet fired, we are driving more and more Kashmiris away? How long will we stand and stare while the valley burns and its people punished for being born in this beautiful prison? When will our politicians and democratic institutions and civil society wake up to the tragedy of Kashmir?

The current wave of protests is even more dangerous than the mayhem of the 1990s. Because even at the height of the militancy in the 1990s, there was a government in place in Srinagar and it controlled the administration including security forces. Today, it seems, there’s no government, no authority, no rule of law in the state despite the heavy presence of security forces. More important, security forces are not fighting the militants sent from across the border as they did back then.

Today, guns have given way to stones and street protests. And as history of another distant conflict would tell you, fighting guns with guns and violence with greater violence is any day easier than fighting the humble but more potent stones of the protester.

Omar blames Hurriyat and the opposition PDP for encouraging protests. Home Minister Chidambaram and the opposition BJP agree the protests are being orchestrated by forces from across the border.

Statements like these not just insult the intelligence of Kashmiri people but also add fuel to the cauldron that is the valley. Especially when for the first time the valley protests have evoked no response from Pakistanis, who are busy fighting the fires closer to home. Most Pakistani papers haven’t had a Kashmir story on their front pages for months now, a fact registered wryly by a BBC commentator.

Kashmir is burning because of the decades of failed policies and actions of the short-sighted, self-serving politicians in Srinagar, Delhi and Islamabad. This surge of violence and protests, ostensibly in response to police firings and faked encounters, is actually a result of decades of suppression, injustice and deprivation.

The long pent-up volcano of Kashmiri anger and frustration has burst open. And it threatens to consume everyone and everything in its path.

This is a movement that is now not in anyone’s control, not the dithering Hurriyat, not the PDP, not even Pakistan. This is a people’s protest, a protest against their own leaders for letting them down, against Pakistan for exploiting them and a protest against Delhi for not keeping its promises all these years.

What Kashmir urgently needs is a healing touch and some dramatic, bold steps by the government in Delhi. If India is keen to win back Kashmiris, perhaps Congress President Sonia Gandhi, not Manmohan Singh, should visit the valley and talk to ordinary people, especially those who have lost their loved ones over the past few months.

As a mother and as a woman who’s lost her own husband to violence, she’d bring the soft touch that the valley badly needs. She has already won a billion hearts with her act of self-denial. She could win Kashmiri hearts and minds too by reaching out to an alienated and angry people. Mere rhetoric and empty gestures won’t work anymore though.

The first step to peace and normalcy in Kashmir is a normal approach to the state: that is, stop treating it like a war zone and get more than half a million troops deployed there out. Secondly, and more importantly, start talking to both Kashmiri leadership and Pakistan to sort out this mess once and for all. I mean, real and meaningful talks, not the kind of photo opportunities we have had so far. This is the only way to bring peace to this breathtakingly beautiful, but cursed land.

The K knot came closest to resolution under Vajpayee and Musharraf notwithstanding the BJP’s and the general’s hawkish posturing and tough rhetoric. When the Congress coalition took over, many thought it would carry forward the initiative. But it was not to be. The Congress hasn’t quite mustered the courage. Under Sonia and Manmohan Singh though, the UPA government has a historic opportunity to put the ghosts of Kashmir to rest forever and gift South Asia a lasting legacy of peace. Soft borders, greater autonomy or a special status recognised by India and Pakistan… some solution ought to, and must, work for God’s sake! Kashmir deserves a break now.

India must stop restricting journalists in Kashmir

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Committee to Protect Journalists

New York, -National authorities in India must immediately address complaints from local journalists in Indian-controlled Kashmir who say they are being stopped from covering the government crackdown on protests that have killed 15 people.

In statements e-mailed to CPJ, the Kashmir Press Association, the Press Guild of Kashmir, the Kashmir Journalists Corps the Press Photographers, and the Video Journalists Association have complained that a government-imposed curfew has kept their staff from covering the situation.

In a message sent on Thursday, the Press Guild of Kashmir said the government has “virtually banned the local media but was extending all facilities to media persons coming from Delhi and other parts of India to cover the situation here.” The message said that even local journalists working for national and international media were having a hard time getting passes to allow them to move around during curfew hours, “while their counterparts who came from Delhi and other parts are roaming free to cover the events.”

The BBC reported that one of its BBC Urdu service journalists, Riaz Masroor, was stopped and beaten by police as he was going to collect his curfew pass on Friday. He suffered a fractured arm, the BBC said.

“It is illogical to restrict the movement of some journalists and not others,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “There is no justification for authorities to stop reporters from doing their job in Kashmir-whether they are locally based or are covering the story on assignment from another region.”

In a joint message today, the groups said the government’s claims that it had eased the restrictions were “eyewash” and that only some editors, but not field reporters, had been allowed to move during curfew hours. The groups said that many of the area’s more than 60 newspapers decided to suspend publication because of the small number of curfew passes issued to staff and continued attacks on media, a claim substantiated by the BBC and other reports.

Local and international media reports say thousands of police officers and troops from the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force have been deployed across the summer capital Srinagar city to enforce the curfew and restrict movement in and around the city. The Associated Press reported today that thousands of people defied a curfew across Indian-controlled Kashmir to pray in small mosques and in open fields, protesting India’s presence in the disputed area.

Journalists in Kashmir have long been abused. In January, one was shot and five others assaulted after a 22-hour battle between militants and local authorities in Srinagar, the summer capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. CPJ has reported on many more incidents over the years.