India eases some curbs in Kashmir | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 18, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:53 AM, August 18, 2019

India eases some curbs in Kashmir

Some land phone links restored; Pakistan, India trade heavy fire

Indian authorities eased restrictions on movement and restored landline telephone links in some parts of Kashmir on Saturday, the biggest relaxation in a crippling lockdown since New Delhi announced it was removing the region’s special status on Aug 5.

The ease of restrictions comes despite India and Pakistan exchanged “heavy” cross-border fire yesterday, a day after a rare meeting of the UN Security Council on the Kashmir issue.

The two foes regularly fire potshots over the Line of Control (LoC) in the disputed Himalayan territory, which is divided between the two countries and poisoned their relations since independence in 1947.

“The exchange of fire is going on,” a senior Indian government official told AFP, calling it “heavy”.

One Indian soldier was reportedly killed. Pakistan made no immediate comment on the violence.

Late Friday, Pakistan and China succeeded in getting the UN Security Council to discuss Kashmir -- behind closed doors -- for the first time since the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday hailed the gathering, saying that addressing the “suffering of the Kashmiri people & ensuring resolution of the dispute is the responsibility of this world body”.

New Delhi insists the status of the territory is a purely internal matter.

“We don’t need international busybodies to try to tell us how to run our lives. We are a billion-plus people,” India’s UN envoy Syed Akbaruddin said after the meeting.

US President Donald Trump urged the nuclear-armed rivals to come back to the negotiating table, speaking to Khan by phone on the importance of “reducing tensions through bilateral dialogue”.

India yesterday meanwhile gradually restored phone lines following an almost two-week communications blackout in its part of Kashmir, imposed hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise August 5 gambit.

Seventeen out of around 100 telephone exchanges were restored Saturday in the restive Kashmir Valley, the local police chief told AFP.

But mobiles and the internet remained dead in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, the main hotbed of resistance to Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir state in a 30-year-old conflict that has killed tens of thousands. In the Jammu area, which is mainly Hindu, mobile services have been restored in some districts.

Fearing an angry and potentially violent response, India also sent 10,000 extra troops to the area, severely restricted movement and arrested some 500 local politicians, activists, academics and others.

The state’s Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam had said Friday there would be a “gradual” restoration of phone lines over the weekend, with schools to resume classes in some areas next week.

The transformation of Srinagar into an eerie maze of barricades, soldiers and concertinas of barbed wire has failed to stop public anger boiling to the surface.

“We want peace and nothing else, but they have kept us under this lockdown like sheep while taking decisions about us,” resident Tariq Madri told AFP.

“Even my nine-year old son asked me why they had locked us inside,” he added.

Several hundred protesters clashed with police in the city on Friday, who responded with tear gas and pellet-firing shotguns.

People hurled stones and used shop hoardings and tin sheets as improvised shields, as police shot dozens of rounds into the crowd. No injuries were reported.

The clashes broke out after more than 3,000 people rallied in the city’s Soura neighbourhood, which has witnessed regular demonstrations this month.

A week earlier around 8,000 people staged a protest which also ended in a violent confrontation with police, residents said.

“I want the government to know that this aggression and aggressive policies don’t work on the ground,” said 24-year-old Adnan Rashid, an engineering student.

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