In Kashmir, leaders’ movement restricted; schools shut, internet snapped
Officials said restrictions on movement of people would come into force in Kashmir Valley at the crack of dawn.
Authorities stepped up security in tensed Jammu and Kashmir on Monday as the movement of several senior leaders, including Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, was restricted and mobile internet services snapped in fast-paced developments on Sunday night.
A late night tweet by former chief minister Omar Abdullah indicated that the leaders were being put under house arrest.
The government move comes after a massive security build-up and an advisory asking tourists and pilgrims to leave the restive state, citing security threats from terrorists backed by the Pakistan army.
Authorities imposed restrictions under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPc), which bars the assembly of more than four persons, from midnight in Srinagar and the entire Valley. They would remain in place till further orders, they said.
“As per the order, there shall be no movement of public and all educational institutions shall also remain closed. There will be a complete bar on holding any kind of public meetings or rallies during the period of operation of this order,” a government statement said.
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“Identity cards of essential services officials will be treated as movement passes wherever required. However, there is no curfew in place as reported in a section of media,” it added.
Officials said former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti would not be allowed to move out of their respective house in view of the restrictions, while Congress leader Usman Majid and CPI(M) MLA MY Tarigami claimed to have been arrested around midnight.
However, no official confirmation of the arrests was immediately available.
“I believe I’m being placed under house arrest from midnight tonight & the process has already started for other mainstream leaders. No way of knowing if this is true but if it is then I’ll see all of you on the other side of whatever is in store,” National Conference leader Omar Abdullah tweeted late on Sunday.
He also appealed to the people in the Valley to stay calm.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor responded to Omar Abdullah’s tweet and said he “was not alone”.
“Every Indian democrat will stand with the decent mainstream leaders in Kashmir as you face up to whatever the government has in store for our country. Parliament is still in session & our voices will not be stilled,” Tharoor tweeted.
“What is going on in J&K? Why would leaders be arrested overnight while having done no wrong? If Kashmiris are our citizens &their leaders our partners, surely the mainstream ones must be kept on board while we act against terrorists & separatists? If we alienate them, who’s left? (sic)” he said in another tweet.
Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti, along with other politicians, had attended an all-party meeting that resolved to seek an audience with President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the security situation in the state hours before being placed under house arrest.
Mufti also tweeted saying “we are in this together & will fight it out.”
“In such difficult times, I’d like to assure our people that come what may, we are in this together & will fight it out. Nothing should break our resolve to strive for what’s rightfully ours,” she posted on Twitter.
“How ironic that elected representatives like us who fought for peace are under house arrest. The world watches as people & their voices are being muzzled in J&K. The same Kashmir that chose a secular democratic India is facing oppression of unimaginable magnitude. Wake up India,” she said in another tweet.
Earlier on Sunday, leaders of political parties who met in Srinagar decided to meet the President, Prime Minister and other leaders, resolving to protect and defend the identity, autonomy and special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
The situation in the state was discussed at the all-party meeting, which was held at the residence of former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah.
“It was unanimously resolved that all parties would be united with their resolve to protect and defend identity, autonomy and special status of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh against all attacks and onslaughts whatsoever, modification abrogation of Article 35A, 370, unconstitutional delimitation, trifurcation of the state would be an aggression against the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh,” said Omar Abdullah’s father, Farooq Abdullah, reading from a copy of the resolution.
The meeting was attended by Mufti, Omar Abdullah, Taj Mohiuddin, Muzaffar Beig (PDP), Sajad Lone and Imran Ansari (People’s Conference), Shah Faesal (J&K Peoples Movement) and MY Tarigami.
Additional paramilitary forces, which arrived in Kashmir in the past few days, have been deployed across the city and in other vulnerable areas of the valley, officials said.
The strength of the security personnel has been increased around vital installations such as the civil secretariat, police headquarters, airport and various central government establishments in the city, they said.
Barricades have been erected on many arterial roads, including the entry and exit points to Srinagar, the summer capital of the state. Riot control vehicles have also been kept on standby in some areas where the apprehension of law and order disturbances is more, the officials added.
Mobile internet services have been suspended in Kashmir Valley, the officials said, adding that satellite phones were being provided to police officials and district magistrates.
Anxious residents stocked on essentials and serpentine queues were seen outside shops and fuel stations after authorities in Jammu and Kashmir curtailed the Amarnath Yatra and asked pilgrims and tourists to leave the Valley on Friday.
The district administration in Anantnag ordered all fuel station dealers not to sell petrol or diesel without permission from the district magistrate or an authorised officer in view of “panic stocking”.
Various educational institutions in Kashmir Valley also directed their students to vacate hostels. Authorities in Jammu and Udhampur district also ordered the closure of schools and colleges as precautionary measures. The University of Jammu will remain closed on Monday and all scheduled examinations have been postponed.
The authorities imposed night curfew in Kishtwar, Rajouri districts and Banihal area of Ramban district.
The Union government has decided to scale up the presence of defence forces in Jammu and Kashmir to prepare for a possible threat arising from the increased influence of the Pakistan-backed Taliban once US troops withdraw from Afghanistan, people aware of the developments said on Sunday.
The situation in Kashmir, and the ascendency of the Taliban and fellow jihadists in Kabul as a fallout of the future US withdrawal from Afghanistan, were among the issues discussed between the home minister, national security adviser Ajit Doval, home secretary Rajiv Gauba and additional secretary (Kashmir) Gyanesh Kumar at Parliament House on Sunday, top government officials said on condition of anonymity.
Thousands of tourists and Amarnath pilgrims left Kashmir over the weekend as the state administration cut short the annual pilgrimage by a fortnight and asked vacationers and pilgrims to leave the Valley because of a perceived terror threat. Security was reinforced with additional troops over the past week, leading to tensions in the state over the security build-up.
The Indian Army said on Saturday it repelled an attempt by a mixed group of Pakistani soldiers and terrorists to attack an army post along the Line of Control (LoC) in Keran sector, killing five to seven intruders.
Local political parties have accused the administration of creating disquiet in Jammu and Kashmir.
Governor Satya Pal Malik has dismissed reports that preparations are being made for an announcement on Article 35A and Article 370 or on the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir by creating three states of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, as has been rumoured in the state.
Article 35A reserves government employment and property ownership to permanent residents of the state. Article 370 confers special status on Kashmir.
(With agency inputs)