Kashmir shuts down to protest India’s new land laws

Indian paramilitary soldiers stand guard at a closed market area during a strike called by separatists in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 31 October 2020

Kashmir shuts down to protest India’s new land laws

  • New regulation exacerbated concerns of Kashmiris who see them as a project to change the Muslim-majority region’s demography
  • The laws also authorize the Indian army to declare any area as ‘strategic’ for operational, residential and training purposes against Kashmiri rebels

SRINAGAR: Shops and businesses were shut in several parts of Indian-controlled Kashmir on Saturday during a general strike to denounce new laws that allow non-Kashmiris to buy land in the disputed region.

Government forces in riot gear patrolled streets in Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar in anticipation of anti-India protests. Public transport also stayed off the roads.

All Party Hurriyat Conference called the strike to protest new land laws that India brought in on Tuesday, allowing any of its nationals to buy or its military to directly acquire land in the region. Pro-India politicians in Kashmir have also criticized the laws and accused India of putting the region’s land up for sale.

The new legislation ended or modified most laws that governed local land rights. It also abolished 1950s land reform laws that redistributed large patches of land to landless farmers.

The move has exacerbated concerns of Kashmiris and rights groups who see such measures as a settler-colonial project to change the Muslim-majority region’s demography. They are likening the new arrangement to the West Bank or Tibet, with settlers living in guarded compounds among disenfranchised locals. They say the changes will reduce the region to a colony.

Until last year, Indians were not allowed to buy property in the region. But in August 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government scrapped Kashmir’s special status, annulled its separate constitution, split the region into two federal territories — Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir — and removed inherited protections on land and jobs. The move triggered widespread anger and economic ruin amid a harsh security clampdown and communications blackout.

Since then, India has brought in a slew of changes through new laws. They are often drafted by bureaucrats without any democratic bearings and much to the resentment and anger of the region’s people, many of whom want independence from India or unification with Pakistan.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, but both countries claim the region in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989.

The new laws, part of a series of hard-line Hindu nationalist policies by Modi, also authorize the Indian army to declare any area as “strategic” for operational, residential and training purposes against Kashmiri rebels.

The Indian government said the decision was made to encourage development and peace.

“I want to say this forcefully and with full responsibility that agricultural land has been kept reserved for farmers,” Lt. Guv. Manoj Sinha, New Delhi’s top administrator in Kashmir, said recently. “No outsider will come on those lands.”

The government has also said it only wanted to invite outside industries into the designated “industrial areas.”

The pro-freedom conglomerate said in a statement that India was undermining any possibility of peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

“Instead, a policy of permanent demographic change is aggressively being pushed to snatch our land, destroy our identity and turn us into a minority in our own land,” the statement said, adding that “laws are being invented and amended by New Delhi and forcibly thrust upon the people.”

India describes the Kashmiri militancy as Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris call it a legitimate freedom struggle.

Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.

Pakistan becomes founding member of Saudi Digital Cooperation Organization

Updated 21 min 1 sec ago

Pakistan becomes founding member of Saudi Digital Cooperation Organization

  • FM Qureshi praises the kingdom’s ‘farsighted initiative’ while calling for greater international collaboration in the digital domain
  • The new organization has been launched to enhance the growth of digital economy that is currently estimated to be over $11 trillion

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thursday became one of the founding members of an organization launched by a group of Muslim countries to enhance the growth of digital economy, said an official statement circulated by the foreign office in Islamabad on Thursday.
Envisaged by Saudi Arabia, the Digital Cooperation Organization (DCO) also includes other Middle Eastern nations like Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
The DCO was launched at a virtual event hosted by the kingdom’s communication minister, Abdullah Al-Swaha.
It was also attended by Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who shared his thoughts with the forum through a video message.
Qureshi lauded the Saudi minister’s “farsighted initiative,” said the statement, and noted that the creation of the organization would cater to the growing need of international cooperation and collaboration in the digital domain.
The Pakistani minister pointed out that the global digital economy was estimated to be worth over $11 trillion and was set to expand due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“DCO would offer a platform to promote the global digital agenda in the scientific, health, educational, commercial, social, agricultural, investment and security spheres,” he said.
The foreign minister, who also chairs a dedicated digital diplomacy working group of leading IT experts in his country, added that information revolution presented a unique opportunity to deal with the development deficit in Pakistan through its skilled human resource that could also make significant contributions globally.