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Kashmir travel restrictions partly eased but phones and web still blocked

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Posted on : August 12, 2019

Indias Muslim-majority state, with phones and internet blocked, cannot tell the world what is happening

There were signs that travel restrictions in Indian-administered Kashmir had been relaxed on Saturday in the states summer capital, Srinagar, where the streets were reportedly busy with people trying to buy food ahead of Eid. Landlines, mobile phones and the internet all remained blocked, however, preventing residents from calling relatives or friends.

The easing of the curfew followed major protests on Friday in which at least 10,000 people reportedly took to the streets of Srinagar to demonstrate against Delhis withdrawal of the special status accorded to Indias only Muslim-majority state. Police reportedly responded with teargas and rubber pellets to break up the protest, the largest to take place since the state was placed under an unprecedented communications blackout last week.

An Indian home affairs ministry official called the reports completely fabricated and incorrect. He said: There have been a few stray protests in Srinagar/Baramulla and none involved more than 20 people.

The BBC released a video appearing to show huge crowds marching through the streets of Srinagar, carrying signs that read we want our freedom and chanting go back, go, India, go. The footage shows people scattering and running for cover as police appear to open fire and use teargas.

Timeline

Key events in Kashmir

With the end of British colonial rule, the Indian subcontinent is partitioned into predominantly Hindu India and mainly Muslim Pakistan. Mass migrations follow, with Hindus and Muslims moving to their country of choice. More than a million people are killed in the communal violence that ensues.

India and Pakistan fight their first war over control of Muslim-majority Kashmir, a kingdom ruled by Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh. The war ends in 1948 with a UN brokered ceasefire, leaving Kashmir divided between the nations, with the promise of a referendum to chose which nation its people wish to join.

A second war erupts over Kashmir, with India and Pakistan agreeing to a UN-mandated ceasefire the following month.

The third war between India and Pakistan is fought in East Pakistan, ending with the creation of independent Bangladesh.

India detonates a nuclear device in the first confirmed nuclear test by a non-permanent member of the UN security council.

India and Pakistan sign an agreement that neither will attack each other’s nuclear installations or facilities; it takes effect in 1991.

Armed resistance to Indian rule in Kashmir begins. India says Pakistan supports local fighters with weapons and training, which Pakistan denies, saying it only gives local Kashmiris “moral and diplomatic” support.

India detonates five nuclear devices and Pakistan responds by detonating six of its own. International sanctions are imposed against both.

India masses troops along its western frontier with Pakistan and the Kashmir boundary after blaming Pakistani insurgents for a deadly attack at the Indian parliament. The standoff ends in October 2002 after international mediation.

Suspected rebels sneak into an army base in Indian-controlled Kashmir and kill at least 18 soldiers. Indian forces later attack militant bases in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

A car bombing of a paramilitary convoy in Indian-controlled Kashmir kills 40 Indian soldiers. Militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, headquartered in Pakistan, claims responsibility. India blames Pakistan and promises a “crushing response”.”

India’s central government changes part of the Indian constitution and downgrades Jammu and Kashmir from one state to two territories. The changes eliminate Kashmir’s right to its own constitution, limit its decision-making power, and allow non-Kashmiri Indians to settle there.

The communication blackout has resulted in little concrete information as to what is happening in Kashmir.

Fears have been expressed about food shortages in the state. Syed Asim Ali, who returned to Delhi from Srinagar on Thursday, said his family was low on food and had been eating dried vegetables stored as emergency supplies. There is going to be a terrible food shortage in a few days, he said. We managed to buy dairy supplies [from shop keepers who had closed their doors], but they were saying all the supplies from Jammu had been blocked.

Baseer Khan, the senior administrative official of Kashmir Valley, said essentials such as food, grain and meat would be delivered to different parts of the region by Sunday.

There are also fears about access to healthcare. One doctor at a hospital emergency department in Srinagar said patient numbers had drastically reduced. On an average day we see over 1,000 patients, but now less than 100 manage to reach here, the doctor told Agence France-Presse.

Quick guide

Where in the world have governments imposed internet and telephone blackouts?

Governments around the world have used internet blackouts, or blocked popular platforms such as WhatsApp, at times of political crisis. Several countries have also used temporary outages to try to foil cheats in national exams. The controls India has put on communications in Kashmir blocking phone lines and the internet, and limiting travel to the region have created a rare degree of isolation.

Netblocks monitors outages worldwide, and has recorded dozens of cases this year alone. But it is rare for all communication, including phone lines, to be severed. Other countries that have limited their citizens communications, both temporarily and long-term, in recent years include:

  • North Korea is probably the most isolated country in the world. Its people cannot make or receive international phone calls, or access the global internet. Mobile phones operate on a closed domestic network, and North Koreans can only surf a highly restricted national intranet.
  • Xinjiang region in western China was largely isolated for 10 months in 2010. After riots, Beijing blocked internet access and barred international phone calls. Since then an unprecedented surveillance system has been put in place that allows authorities to monitor residents phone and internet use rather than blocking it entirely.
  • China has blocked its internet off from the rest of the world wide web with digital barriers known colloquially as the Great Firewall. Companies that are a staple of digital life elsewhere, including Facebook, Google and Amazon, are blocked and unknown in China. However the controls can be dodged with a VPN, and phone connections to the rest of the world are open.
  • Sudan had a month-long internet blackout during mass demonstrations this year. Other countries have shut down the internet or blocked major sites during times of political tension, including Zimbabwe during fuel price protests this year and Uganda for the swearing in of a president whose re-election sparked protests.
  • Iraq, Algeria and Ethiopia are among several countries that have temporarily blocked the internet to prevent cheating in national high school exams. These blocks have usually only lasted a few hours.

Emma Graham-Harrison

Ambulance services were not working and people trying to drive to hospital were reportedly turned away at checkpoints. Ali got to a pharmacy to pick up medicine for his child, he said, but supplies were worryingly low.

Indias prime minister, Narendra Modi, said the removal of Kashmirs special status would bring prosperity and free the state of terrorism, but the decision is widely opposed in Kashmir, where even prominent pro-India politicians have been detained.

A
A student in Delhi shouts slogans against the scrapping of the special constitutional status for Kashmir. Photograph: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

The move strips Kashmir of the autonomy it was granted in exchange for joining the Indian union after independence in 1947. It will lose its constitution and flag. Rules that prevent outsiders from buying land are also being scrapped, prompting fears that the territorys demography and way of life will be altered.

Delhis announcement has also escalated tensions with Pakistan and been condemned by China and Iran. According to the semi-official Fars news agency, Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani, an adviser to Irans supreme leader told worshippers that Indias actions were an ugly move.

Many in Pakistan are demanding a tough response from the countrys prime minister, Imran Khan. Thousands of supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist party, marched through Islamabad on Friday to condemn Delhis action. In one of the citys biggest shopping centres, visitors also called for action.

Khan should come up with an effective policy to show the world what India is doing, said Anam Rana, a student at Quaid-e-Azam university.

We should talk of peace with India but we cant clap with one hand, said Awais Siddiqui, a telecoms engineer.

Khan suggested Delhi might carry out ethnic cleansing. He has expelled the Indian high commissioner and halted trade, and Pakistans army chief has said his forces would take any action to stand by Kashmiris.

They cant be silent because if they are it will be seen as a defeat. For many years they have used Kashmir as a symbol of national unity, said Khalid Shah, an associate fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.

Khan has vowed to go to the UN and lobby heads of states, but the response so far has been muted. Ultimately, Pakistan may be frustrated on the world stage, which enhances the likelihood that it may try to resort to sub-conventional uses of force, pushing back at India by encouraging its militant assets, said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Wilson Center in Washington.

The next time there is an attack in Kashmir, India will blame Pakistan, regardless of the facts, he said. And then the two sides will find themselves in an immediate crisis that could well escalate into a conflict.

Hundreds of migrant workers have fled Kashmir for fear of unrest, and thousands of villagers living along the heavily militarised line of control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan have also left their homes.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/10/kashmir-protests-india-curfew

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