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.”
 


Attacks surge in northwest Pakistan as Afghan peace effort brings shifting sands

Updated 18 September 2020

Attacks surge in northwest Pakistan as Afghan peace effort brings shifting sands

  • Militants have killed at least 40 Pakistani soldiers since March, according to a Reuters tally of official figures
  • Bolstering their bid to re-establish themselves in Pakistan’s border lands, Pakistani Taliban have struck an alliance with half a dozen small militant factions

ISLAMABAD: Militants have stepped up attacks on security forces in northwest Pakistan raising fears of a revival of their insurgency and a return of lawlessness as brighter prospects for peace in Afghanistan herald shifting Islamist alliances.
The ethnic Pashtun border region was for years a haven for militants who fled the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. But the Pakistani military cleared out the strongholds in a 2014 offensive, driving most of the fighters into Afghanistan.
But since March, Al-Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban, facing the risk of losing havens on the Afghan side of the border if their Afghan Taliban allies make peace there, have unleashed a wave of attacks on the Pakistani security forces.
Bolstering their bid to re-establish themselves in the border lands, the Pakistani Taliban, or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), struck an alliance in July with half a dozen small militant factions.
“The group’s capability and military strength has increased, as has their reach,” said Mansur Khan Mahsud, executive director of the Islamabad-based FATA Research Center.
September has seen near daily incidents, from roadside bombs to sniper attacks, to ambushes and the killing of residents accused of collaborating with government forces.
The militants have killed at least 40 soldiers since March, according to a Reuters tally of official figures.
At least 109 people were killed in 67 attacks between January and July — twice the number in 2019, according to the FATA Research Center.
“TTP’s regrouping is concerning both because of its own activities and its links to groups like Al-Qaeda,” said Elizabeth Threlkeld, a former State Department official who served in Pakistan, now deputy-director for the South Asia program at the Washington-based Stimson Center.
“It could again provide significant support to international terror groups if it continues to regain ground.”
UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCE
Militant violence surged in Pakistan after it was pressed to sign on to the US-led war on terror after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, even though it had for years supported the Afghan Taliban.
Soon the Pakistani government found itself under attack from home-grown Taliban but the military succeeded in pushing them out of the region, known as the tribal areas, in 2014, forcing the Pakistani Taliban into Afghanistan.
Millions of residents were displaced by the fighting but since then, militant violence in Pakistan has largely ceased.
But now fears are growing that the surge of Pakistani Taliban violence is an unintended consequence of efforts to make peace in Afghanistan.
In February, the Afghan Taliban and the United States struck a deal allowing for the withdrawal of US forces in exchange for Afghan Taliban guarantees they would not harbor other militants.
The United Nations said in a report in July there were more than 6,000 Pakistani fighters in Afghanistan, most affiliated with the TTP, who could be heading home if they lose their refuge.
“It’s a concern for everyone,” a Western security official based in Pakistan told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Pakistan’s military did not respond to a request for comment on the violence but its spokesman said on Twitter recently that the attacks were “meant to derail (the) Afghanistan Peace Process.”
For those living in the area, insecurity is again becoming a daily worry.
The TTP issued a statement this week telling residents to leave “until peace returns”.
“Our war against Pakistan is continuing and you will continue to see daily attacks,” the militants said.