India defends blocking politicians from visiting Kashmir

Rahul Gandhi’s visit came days after Governor Satya Pal Malik ‘invited’ him to the state via Twitter. (Express Photo/File)
Updated 25 August 2019

India defends blocking politicians from visiting Kashmir

  • If everything is normal, asks opposition’s Rahul Gandhi, why are Congress leaders not allowed in Jammu and Kashmir
  • Hurriyat Conference has released its first official comment since the clampdown, calling for locals to resist New Delhi’s move 

NEW DELHI: Authorities on Sunday defended blocking opposition Indian politicians from visiting Muslim-majority Kashmir, saying it was to “avoid controversy” weeks after stripping the restive region of its autonomy and imposing a major clampdown.
India’s Hindu-nationalist government has been criticized by the main opposition Congress party over the contentious move on August 5 that brings Kashmir — which has waged an armed rebellion against Indian control since 1989 — under its direct rule.
The region remains under strict lockdown with movement limited and many phone and Internet services cut, although authorities say they have been easing restrictions gradually.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, still a key figure in India as a scion of the powerful Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, was earlier invited by local governor Satya Pal Malik to visit Kashmir.
But a video released by Congress showed Gandhi questioning officials about why he was stopped from entering Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar at the airport on Saturday.
“The governor has said I’m invited. He has invited me so I have come but you’re saying I can’t go,” he said.
“And the government is saying everything is OK, everything is normal. So if everything is normal, why are we not allowed out? It is a bit surprising.”
Regional police chief Dilbagh Singh told AFP police supported the decision.
“In an environment that is getting to normalcy, we didn’t want any controversial statement from anyone. That’s why they were asked to return from the airport itself,” Singh said.
Malik told the ANI news agency he invited Gandhi out of goodwill but that he then politicized the issue.
The controversy came as key separatist group Hurriyat Conference, a coalition of local political parties, released its first official comments since the clampdown and called for locals to “resist at this critical juncture” New Delhi’s move.
“Each and every person must face the naked Indian brutality with courage ... People should organize peaceful protests and demonstrations in their areas of residence,” top separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani said in a statement obtained by AFP.
The Hurriyat Conference, which supports Kashmir’s right to choose whether it wants to be part of India or Pakistan, added that Pakistan and the wider Muslim community should “come forward to ... help the besieged people.”
The call came as India’s home affairs ministry refuted a report by India’s News18 television on Sunday that the region was running out of lifesaving medicines, saying supplies were “slightly higher than the monthly average.”

Pakistan’s ‘Lion King’ rears 11 big cats at Peshawar home

Updated 12 min 55 sec ago

Pakistan’s ‘Lion King’ rears 11 big cats at Peshawar home

  • Arab Gul says there is a separate place to house each one of his cherished pets
  • They include two white lions which are a rare breed in the world

Peshawar: There’s a Mufasa and a Simba, but it’s 50-year-old Arab Gul who is the undisputed ‘lion king’ of the Muslim Town in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Both Mufasa and Simba are unique because they are a rare breed of white lions. Only a few are found in Lahore, Pakistan, but except for Gul, there's no one else who keeps them at home. (AN Photo by Saba Rehman)

With three lions currently in Islamabad for training, Gul has a total of 11 big cats under his care.

Arab Gul, who said he grew fond of lions from a very early age, is seen here interacting with his pets during a routine morning visit at his home in Peshawar on Monday. (AN Photo by Saba Rehman)

It’s a love, he says, which he’s nurtured from childhood.

“I started rearing them four years ago with two white lions who were imported from Sri Lanka. White lions are a rare breed in the world. In Pakistan, two of them – Mufasa (male) and Simba (female) – are with me. A dealer imported them from Sri Lanka. Later, I bought them from him,” he said.

The two white lions seen here, Mufasa and Simba, were imported from Sri Lanka, and have three cubs. (AN Photo by Saba Rehman)

White lions are a rare breed in Pakistan, too, with only a few in Lahore. However, unlike Gul, no one keeps them at home.

That, however, doesn’t seem to bother residents of his locality who treat Gul like a celebrity for keeping unique pets at home.

Located along Dilazak road on the outskirts of Peshawar, his residence in Muslim Town is spread over an area of 0.375 acres and houses a separate place for each of the lions.

Feeding his “family members,” however, is no piece of cake, Gul says.

Enhaj Khan is one of the caretakers of the lions. (AN Photo by Saba Rehman)

“In one week, we give them beef for four days and chicken for two, with a one day break. Each lion consumes about six kgs of beef and 10 kgs of chicken, in addition to one liter of milk on a daily basis,” he said.

After their scheduled meals, the lions are unchained for two hours every day for a walk in the residential lawns.

EnHajj Khan, one of Gul’s employees, is responsible for the lions’ care and said he’s never been afraid of taking care of the “king of the jungle.”

At Arab Gul’s home in Peshawar, there is a separate place for every lion which is secured from outside. (AN Photo by Saba Rehman)

“I am working here from the past four years. I haven’t received any training but take care of them on my own,” Khan, 60, said, adding that’s it wonderful to see people visiting the house to see the lions for free.

Gul says he’s unperturbed by the flow of visitors who usually visit at noon.

“CCTV cameras ensure the animals’ security and I keep watch on my phones,” he said.