India urges Pakistan to accept reality; J&K curbs eased

Peace prevailed amid heavy security deployment, boding well for the celebration of Eid-ul-Azha, the Islamic religious occasion known as the festival of the sacrifice, on Monday.
Security personnel stand guard during the restrictions in Jammu on Friday.(ANI photo)
Security personnel stand guard during the restrictions in Jammu on Friday.(ANI photo)
Updated on Aug 09, 2019 11:27 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi/Srinagar/Jammu | ByRezaul H Laskar and Mir Ehsan

India said on Friday that Pakistan’s unilateral actions in response to the stripping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status were aimed at conveying an “alarming picture of bilateral relations”, an effort it said hadn’t gained traction with the world community.

The characterisation of Pakistan’s actions — withdrawal of the Indian envoy, suspending bilateral trade and stopping two cross-border train services — came on a day authorities in J&K, for the first time this week, loosened restrictions on public movement to allow people to congregate in mosques and offer Friday prayers.

Peace prevailed amid heavy security deployment, boding well for the celebration of Eid-ul-Azha, the Islamic religious occasion known as the festival of the sacrifice, on Monday. Additional barricades were set up and roads blocked with concertina wire. People travelling on motorbikes and in cars were questioned by troops manning checkpoints before being allowed to proceed.

Strict restrictions remained in place in the old quarters of Srinagar. Residents were not allowed to offer Friday prayers at the Jamia Masjid, where Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, leader of the separatist Hurriyat Conference, typically delivers the weekly sermon.

Mirwaiz is in detention along with a hundreds of political leaders belonging to both mainstream and separatist camps. Former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah are among those detained to forestall protests and rallies.

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Parliament this week effectively revoked Article 370, which granted special status to J&K, and Article 35A, under which government jobs and property ownership were the exclusive preserves of people deemed to be permanent residents, and split the state into two Union Territories — J&K and Ladakh. The moves drew an immediate backlash from Pakistan, which disputes J&K’s 1947 accession to India.

In New Delhi, external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar told a news briefing that Pakistan’s actions were purely unilateral and meant to present a “very alarming picture of our bilateral relations”. He said, “They are acting as if something big is going to happen, which is not the case.”

Dismissing Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s remarks that there was a war-like situation, Kumar said: “Pakistan would like to project a war-like situation. We don’t feel that is the case, neither the international community feels that there is a war-like situation which exists.”

India’s decisions to revoke Kashmir’s special status and to split the state into two Union Territories are aimed at removing socio-economic disparities, supporting democracy at the grassroots and good governance, he said. This is purely an internal affair and changes in India’s Constitution are a sovereign matter, he added.

Pakistan earlier responded to the changes by saying Kashmir was disputed territory and the matter had to be resolved bilaterally. Pakistani leaders also sought to link the situation in Kashmir to the peace process in Afghanistan, saying it could be affected.

Kumar rejected the linking of “unrelated matters” and said: “It is time for Pakistan to see the new reality and stop interfering in what happens in a neighbouring country.”

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He added, “There is a feeling that Pakistan is nervous. They feel the developmental activities and overall welfare of the people of Jammu and Kashmir will nullify their justification for cross-border terrorism, they will not be able to incite separatist activities, they will not be able to support terrorism, they will not be able to mislead people.”

Despite reports that Pakistan had decided to stop talks with India on consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav, a former Indian Navy officer sentenced to death for alleged involvement in spying, Kumar said New Delhi was continuing to seek unimpeded access to him by talking through diplomatic channels.

In response to a question, Kumar said there was greater understanding of India’s position even among Islamic countries following New Delhi’s enhanced engagement with the Islamic world in recent years. India’s relations with these countries had moved away from being diaspora-centric to encompass trade and investment, energy security and defence.

“The rhetoric of Pakistan is something which has been seen through, they stand exposed on many counts,” he said.

In Srinagar and elsewhere in the Kashmir valley , Friday prayers were peaceful. “Today was crucial day for us. So far everything seems to be normal,” an officer deployed in Srinagar said on Friday evening.

Five incidents of stone-throwing were reported from the Valley, three of them from Srinagar and one each from Bandipora and Bulwama, senior officials in New Delhi who did not want to be named said. The groups of stone-throwers were small. “The groups comprised 25-30 only,” one official monitoring the security situation said. “Security forces responded using tear gas to scatter the crowd,” he added.

Speaking to ANI on Friday evening, J&K governor Satya Pal Malik said: “1,600 employees are on duty to ensure essential services like power supply, water and sanitation. 10,000 people in Kashmir are reporting for their duties. Most bank ATMs are operational. We’ve released advance salary for August of daily wage workers.”

He said the situation was peaceful and relaxations will be in place before Eid.

Also read | People offer Friday prayers amid tight security in Jammu

J&K has been in a lockdown mode all week as the government moved on Monday to push through related constitutional changes and legislation through Parliament, after deploying thousands of paramilitary forces in the run-up.

On Friday, a video tweeted by ANI news agency showed people queuing up outside banks on Friday, but public movement was thin. A few shops selling vegetables and medicines opened.

Government officials will reach out to people in every “nook and corner” of each district to ensure that the locals have adequate supply of various commodities ahead of Eid-ul-Azha, divisional commissioner of the Kashmir Zone, Basheer Ahmad Khan, said.

“With regard of supplies of various commodities in view of the forthcoming Eid festival, instead of people coming out to shop, departments will reach out to the public in every nook and corner of each district,” Khan said.

Eid-ul-Azha, also known as Bakri Eid, commemorates Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice the life of his son at the command of Allah. After testing his devotion, God switched the object of his sacrifice to a sheep, which is why it is known as Bakri Eid.

Vulnerable areas are being monitored closely, said deputy commissioner of Udhampur Piyush Singla, adding that section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which bars the public assembly of five or more people, was still in force “with some exceptions in certain areas”. The orders were lifted in Jammu city.

“Security plan is in place. Markets are also open from 11 am to 5 pm,” he said.

Telecom and mobile Internet services have been suspended this week in J&K to prevent rumours from spreading along with orders banning large public assemblies being put in place .

Policemen in riot gear were posted every few metres around the Jamia Masjid mosque in Srinagar’s old quarters. In New Delhi, foreign ministry spokesman Kumar told Reuters, “People are going about their business, vehicles are plying normally. If we are confident of maintaining the law and order, I think those restrictions will be relaxed, I’m quite sure.”

India’s national security adviser Ajit Doval met the governor of Jammu and Kashmir and “expressed satisfaction regarding the overall situation, which is, by and large, peaceful,” the state government said in a statement.

(With agency inputs)

Also read | China refers to UN, bilateral agreement after Pak pitches for help in Kashmir

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