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Second day of telecoms blackout in Kashmir after India scraps special status

  • Published at 05:20 pm August 6th, 2019
Kashmir
Security personnel patrol along a street in Jammu on August 6, 2019 AFP

Hours before Monday's announcement, authorities in Kashmir, which is also claimed by Pakistan, clamped an unprecedented communications blackout on the region, arresting its leaders, including two former state chief ministers

A communications blackout in disputed Kashmir entered a second day on Tuesday, after India snapped television, telephone and internet links to deter protests over its scrapping of special constitutional status for the Himalayan region.

Moving to tighten its grip on India's only Muslim-majority region, the government dropped a constitutional provision for the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which has long been a flashpoint in ties with neighbouring Pakistan, to make its own laws.

"We are managing for now," said a senior official at a hospital in the region's main city of Srinagar that was among the medical facilities hit by the communications crackdown.

Staff were working overtime at the 500-bed Lal Ded hospital, with ambulances having been sent out to fetch doctors and nurses, added the official, who sought anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to media.

Hours before Monday's announcement, authorities in Kashmir, which is also claimed by Pakistan, clamped an unprecedented communications blackout on the region, arresting its leaders, including two former state chief ministers.

Although the leaders had warned that the change, which frees up land for purchase by non-residents, would provoke unrest, the blackout and a heavy deployment of troops, including tens of thousands of additional soldiers, have helped rein in agitation.

A backlash against New Delhi's decision was imminent as many in the region saw this week's decision as a breach of trust, Shah Faesal, the leader of a political party, the Jammu and Kashmir People's Movement, warned.

"We might see an eruption when the guard is down," he told Reuters. "People are taking it as an act of humiliation."

The decision to revoke special status for Kashmir has won praise from many Indian politicians, including some in the opposition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Many in India see it as a bold move to end a three-decade-old armed revolt in the territory, drawing it closer to the rest of India.

Media on Tuesday called the move historic, although criticism is growing about the way Modi took the decision amid a security crackdown and without wider political consultation.

Kashmir's regional politicians said they were kept in the dark about the move and feared a wider crackdown in the next few days. Three leaders Reuters met on Monday at their homes in Srinagar had little knowledge of the situation outside.

"This will be difficult - difficult for people, difficult for political parties," said Rafi Ahmed Mir, spokesman of the People's Democratic Party, which was part of the BJP coalition that ruled the state until last year.

Tight security

Armed police patrolled every few hundred metres in the city, where a ban on public gatherings of more than four people stayed in force on Tuesday. Educational institutions and most shops in residential neighbourhoods were shut.

Security forces fired tear gas and pellets in response to sporadic protests on Monday in Kashmir's main city of Srinagar, said one police official who declined to be identified.

"There was stone-pelting in some parts of the city," he added.

Some shopkeepers said they were running out of stock after days of panic buying.

"No provisions are left in my shop, and no fresh supplies are coming," said grocery store owner Jehangir Ahmad.

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, where tens of thousands of people have been killed in a nearly 30-year-long armed revolt that India has sent hundreds of thousands of troops to quell.

India blames the rebellion on Pakistan, saying Islamabad provides money, training and weapons to Islamist militants who either live in Indian-controlled Kashmir or enter it from the Pakistani side.

Pakistan has consistently denied the accusation, saying it provides moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiris seeking self-determination for the region.

Pakistan said it strongly condemned India's decision on Monday to revoke Kashmir's special status, which is bound to further strain ties between the nuclear-armed rivals.

Ambulances delayed

Tension had risen in Kashmir since Friday, when Indian officials warned of possible militant attacks by Pakistan-based groups. Pakistan rejected those assertions, but many alarmed Indians and foreign tourists left the region over the weekend.

More than 200 satellite phones were issued to all police stations and senior officers in the local administration, officials told Reuters over the weekend.

At the Srinagar hospital, ambulance driver Arshad Ahmed said security forces stopped him frequently on Monday as he ferried two patients from Anantnag district, 50km away, stretching the journey to two hours from its usual 60 minutes.

"They didn't care that it was an ambulance," Ahmed said.

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