Political parties, rights groups slam new crackdown in disputed Kashmir

Indian police detain an activist of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) protesting against India's new land laws that allows any Indian citizen to buy land in the disputed region in Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir on Oct. 29, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 30 October 2020

Political parties, rights groups slam new crackdown in disputed Kashmir

  • New regulation, which allows non-Kashmiris can buy land in Kashmir, is seen as an attempt to dilute the Muslim-majority character of the region
  • Human Rights Watch (HRW) on called raids on rights groups an attempt to 'to crush peaceful criticism and calls for accountability'

NEW DELHI: Pro-India political parties in Kashmir on Friday accused New Delhi of “infringement” of their fundamental rights, days after the introduction of controversial land laws in the region.
The passage of the new regulation, under which non-Kashmiris can buy land in Kashmir, was immediately followed by counterterrorism raids on politicians and activists.
On Friday, the local administration prevented Farooq Abdullah, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and senior leader of the region’s oldest party, National Conference (NC), from offering prayers at Srinagar's historic Hazratbal shrine on the occasion of Mawlid Al-Nabi, the observance of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.
"J&K administration has blocked the residence of Party President Dr Farooq Abdullah and stopped him from offering prayers at Dargah Hazratbal. The NC condemns this infringement of fundamental right to pray, especially on the auspicious occasion of Milad Un Nabi SAW," the NC said in a tweet.
Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti said that preventing Abdullah from offering prayers at the shrine "exposed" the Indian government's "deep paranoia and their iron fist approach" toward Kashmir.
"It's a gross violation of our rights and is highly condemnable," she tweeted.
On Thursday, the government sealed the PDP office and stopped the party's workers from protesting against the new land laws were notified on Tuesday.
The PDP accuses the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of trying to "silence any voices that speak up" against its "unilateral actions" in Kashmir, PDP spokesman Naeem Akhtar told Arab News.
"Dissent has been criminalized and voices muzzled as part of the project to take over whatever this state has, land and resources," he said.
The closure of the PDP office followed Wednesday raids by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) on several NGOs which it accused of carrying out and raising funds for "secessionist and separatist activities" Kashmir.
The groups see the move as a crackdown.
Praveena Ahanger of the Srinagar-based Association of Disappeared Persons (APDP), one of the seven NGOs that were raided by NIA, said it is a "clear case of reprisal and crackdown on the human rights defenders in Kashmir."
Zafarul Islam Khan, former head of the Delhi Minority Commission whose NGO Charity Alliance's premises in Delhi were also raided by NIA, told Arab News that according to the agency's search order, his group was "funding terror organizations in Kashmir."
It is a "Himalayan lie,” he said. "They are trying to implicate me for my work in the Delhi Minority Commission and for my reports on Delhi religious violence in which the names of the ruling BJP leaders have cropped up."
International human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday called the raids an attempt “to silence peaceful dissenters, human rights activists, and journalists.”
"India faces serious security challenges, but instead of addressing the problems in a rights-respecting manner, the authorities appear determined to crush peaceful criticism and calls for accountability,” HRW South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly said in a statement.
Crackdowns on Kashmiri leaders and rights activists have escalated since August 2019 when New Delhi scrapped Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution, which gave Kashmiris limited autonomy and protected their domicile and employment rights. People in the region fear the new land laws are aimed at diluting the Muslim-majority character of the region.
"Land in Kashmir is the biggest resource which is now being offered to outsiders as part of demographic projects. Actual assault is on the Muslim majority character of the region. Everything else is a step to achieve that," PDP's Akhatar said.
Political experts say that altering the region's demography was the main concept behind the revocation of Kashmir's special status.
"The whole idea of revoking Article 370 was to alter the demography of Kashmir otherwise the land in Kashmir is limited, 93 percent of the area in Kashmir is mountain,” Prof. Sheikh Showkat Hussain of Srinagar-based Kashmir University told Arab News.
"People are angry in Kashmir and it might spill over the street any day."
But Srinagar-based BJP leader Dr. Hina Bhat discounts the possibility.
"I don’t think people are angry. Those who are protesting have lost all credibility. The change in land law will not force people to sell their lands to outsiders," she told Arab News.
Commenting on the killing of three BJP workers in Kulgam area of Kashmir on Thursday, Bhat said that "militants don’t want the region to progress."
"The killings of our party men will not deter us from doing good work in Kashmir."


Ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s mother to be laid to rest in Lahore today

Updated 28 November 2020

Ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s mother to be laid to rest in Lahore today

  • Begum Shamim Akhtar passed away in London last Sunday
  • Her elder son attended her funeral prayers in a mosque in Britain before her body was flown back to Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: A leading Pakistani political family has made funeral arrangements in Lahore for an elderly member who passed away in London last Sunday and whose body was brought back to Pakistan earlier today.
Begum Shamim Akhtar, whose sons Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif have spent decades in national politics, will be laid to rest after her family offers her funeral prayers on Saturday.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) founding leader and the country’s former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, prayed for the departed soul in a small congregation at a mosque in London where he currently resides after securing a medical bail and flying out of Pakistan in November 2019.
The Sharif family has been facing a slew of corruption allegations since the Panama Papers were leaked in April 2016.
The country’s top court disqualified Nawaz Sharif from holding public office in July 2017, and he was convicted by an accountability court the next year.
His younger brother, Shehbaz, and nephew, Hamza, have also been facing corruption references and were released from prison on a five-day parole to perform Begum Akhtar’s last rites.
The elder Sharif also missed his father’s funeral in 2004 since he was denied permission to return to his country from exile in Saudi Arabia by the administration of General (r) Pervez Musharraf.