India’s top court upholds abrogation of Kashmir’s special status

People walk along a street as Indian paramilitary personnel patrol in Srinagar on Dec. 11, 2023, ahead of Supreme Court's verdict on Article 370. (AFP)
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Updated 11 December 2023

India’s top court upholds abrogation of Kashmir’s special status

  • Five-judge bench also ordered statehood to be restored, polls to be held by next September
  • For many people in Kashmir, the Supreme Court ruling came as a disappointment

NEW DELHI: India’s top court upheld on Monday a 2019 government decision that stripped Kashmir of its special autonomous status in a unanimous ruling that sets the stage for local polls to be held by September next year.

The semi-autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir was granted by India’s constitution until Aug. 5, 2019, when the Indian government unilaterally revoked the relevant provisions under Article 370 and scrapped the region’s flag, legislature, protections on land ownership, and fundamental rights.  

The Indian Supreme Court began in August hearings of petitions that were filed over the past four years to challenge the government’s contentious move.  

“We don’t find that the president’s exercise to abrogate Article 370 was malafide,” Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said while reading out the judgment.  

“Article 370 is a temporary provision. J&K’s Constitution was subordinate to the Constitution of India. Article 370 was introduced to serve a transitional purpose, to serve as an interim process … and the president can abrogate Article 370.”  

Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir is part of the larger Kashmiri territory, which has been the subject of international dispute since the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. 

Both countries claim Kashmir in full, and rule in part. 

Indian-controlled Kashmir has for decades witnessed outbreaks of separatist insurgency to resist control from the government in New Delhi. 

With the constitutional change, Jammu and Kashmir was split into two federally governed union territories in a move that was followed by a total communications blackout, severe restrictions on freedom of movement, and detention of local leaders — some of whom remain in jail. 

Administrative measures introduced after the abrogation of the special status and statehood have allowed non-locals to settle and vote in the region, raising fears of attempts to engineer demographic change. 

The five-judge bench of the Supreme Court also ordered the government to hold elections in the region by Sept. 30, 2024 and to restore its statehood “at the earliest.” 

The Supreme Court decision was welcomed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who described it as “historic.”  

“The verdict today is not just a legal judgment; it is a beacon of hope, a promise of a brighter future and a testament to our collective resolve to build a stronger, more united India,” Modi said.  

But for the people of Kashmir, Monday’s verdict came as a disappointment.  

“I am very much disappointed. Today’s verdict is totally against our emotions and gives pain to the majority of the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” Aijaz Ahmad, a business professional based in Srinagar, told Arab News.  

Yashwant Sinha group, comprising civil society members who have monitored the situation in Kashmir over the last six years, has reported anger, hatred, a sense of political betrayal and alienation among residents of the valley.  

“People of the valley with whom I have been talking for weeks are not at all surprised and as a petitioner, I am not surprised either,” said Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak, a retired officer of the Indian Air Force and one of the petitioners who appealed to India’s apex court.  

Kak, who is also a member of Yashwant Sinha group, told Arab News the Supreme Court ruling will “take it further away” from resolving the problem of Jammu and Kashmir and exacerbate the concerns and deep alienation felt by youths of the valley.  

Kashmiris were “dejected, humiliated, discredited and disenfranchised” by the Supreme Court ruling, said Nasir Khuehami, president of Kashmir Students Union.  

Subhash Chander Gupta, a senior advocate based in Jammu, believes the verdict was a “politically bad judgment” that will create a trust deficit in the region while also further deepening the “distrust between the Kashmiri people and the rest of India.”  

The apex court’s decision was “nothing less than a death sentence not only for Jammu and Kashmir but for the idea of India,” said Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. 

“This is the defeat of the imagination of India, the Gandhian India with which Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir, rejecting Pakistan, joined hands with the Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Christians … Today marks the defeat of that idea of India," she said.   

Kashmir “continues to be a bleeding humanitarian and political issue” that is “begging redressal,” said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a top cleric and pro-freedom leader.  

“Those people who at the time of the partition of the subcontinent, facilitated the accession of J&K and reposed their faith in the promises and assurances given to them by the Indian leadership must feel deeply betrayed.”

UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech

Updated 4 sec ago

UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech

  • PM: ‘In recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality’

LONDON: Following weeks of simmering tension in the UK over the Gaza conflict, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Friday said that the “time has come” to battle extremist forces as he warned “democracy itself is a target.”
In an unusual address from outside his Downing Street home, Sunak said that “in recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality.”
Regular marches protesting Israel’s military response to Hamas’ October 7th attacks have seen dozens arrested for anti-Semitic chanting and banners, inviting support for a proscribed organization and assaulting emergency workers.
Right wing conter-protesters were also arrested when they descended on London for Remembrance Day events in November.
“Islamist extremists and far-right groups are spreading a poison. That poison is extremism,” said Sunak.
Matters came to a head last week when the Speaker of the House of Commons said he bucked procedure during a debate due to concerns about the safety of MPs.
Sunak said that the protests, a regular occurence on Saturdays in the capital, “had descended into intimidation, threats and planned acts of violence.”
“Now our democracy itself is a target. Council meetings and local events have been stormed.
“MPs do not feel safe in their home. Long-standing parliamentary conventions have been upended because of safety concerns,” he added.
The prime minister said that “police have a tough job in policing the protests” but that “we must draw a line.”
“I say this to the police, we will back up when you take action,” he added.
Sunak’s speech came as left-wing firebrand George Galloway was elected to the UK parliament after tapping into anger over the Israel-Hamas war in a chaotic by-election marred by allegations of anti-Semitism.
Sunak said it was “beyond alarming” that voters had elected a candidate “who dismisses the horror of what happened on October 7th, and who glorifies Hezbollah.”
The government will soon unveil a “new, robust framework” to tackle extremism, which will include backing for the counter-radicalization Prevent program and a demand for universities to stop extremist activity on campus, he explained.
“It is not enough to live side-by-side, we must live together, united by shared values and a shared commitment to this country,” said Sunak.
“The time has now come for us all to stand together to combat the forces of division,” he added.

Military court in Somalia sentences 6 Moroccan men to death for membership in Daesh

Updated 27 min 26 sec ago

Military court in Somalia sentences 6 Moroccan men to death for membership in Daesh

  • The individuals entered Somalia to cause harm to Muslims and Somalis and incite unrest in the country
  • It was not immediately clear if any of the men had access to legal representation or where they were being held Friday

MOGADISHU: A military court in Somalia’s northeastern semiautonomous state of Puntland sentenced to death six Moroccans believed to be foreign fighters for the Daesh group in Somalia.
The individuals entered Somalia to cause harm to Muslims and Somalis and incite unrest in the country, the presiding judge in the Puntland region, Col. Ali Ibrahim Osman, said late Thursday.
The six men, identified as Mohamed Hassan, Ahmed Najwi, Khalid Latha, Mohamed Binu Mohamed Ahmed, Ridwan Abdulkadir Osmany, and Ahmed Hussein Ibrahim, can appeal and if they are unsuccessful they will be shot to death by firing squad.
Additionally, an Ethiopian and a Somali were each sentenced to 10 years in prison, while another Somali defendant was acquitted due to lack of evidence.
It was not immediately clear if any of the men had access to legal representation or where they were being held Friday. The eight men claimed they were misled into joining the group and expressed a desire to be repatriated, Osman said.
According to Osman, the six Moroccans were accused of receiving training with Daesh at its base in the Cal-Miskaat Mountains in northeastern Somalia, which serve as a stronghold for the group.
The Moroccans were apprehended in the mountain range, located to the east of Bosaso, which is the commercial hub of the Puntland region.
The Somali branch of Daesh was established in 2015 by a group of defectors from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabab group, which is the most prominent militant group in Somalia.
The group is notorious for extorting locals and primarily carries out small-scale, sporadic attacks. This marks the first time that authorities in the semi-autonomous Puntland region have charged or sentenced foreigners for joining Daesh.

Armenia, Azerbaijan to continue peace talks after Berlin meet

Updated 01 March 2024

Armenia, Azerbaijan to continue peace talks after Berlin meet

BERLIN: Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to continue peace talks after a new push in Berlin this week to resolve their decades-long conflict, the German foreign ministry said on Friday.
Armenia’s Ararat Mirzoyan and Azerbaijan’s Jeyhun Bayramov held two days of talks in Berlin hosted by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who hailed their “courageous steps” toward a peace agreement.
A German foreign ministry spokeswoman on Friday said the two countries had “a great interest in continuing to clarify outstanding issues together and to meet again for this purpose.”
The foreign ministries of Armenia and Azerbaijan had also said in a statement on Thursday that they wished to “continue negotiations on the open issues.”
The German spokeswoman hailed the agreement to pursue talks as “a very good sign” and said the two parties wanted to work “step by step” toward a peace agreement.
Armenia and Azerbaijan fought two wars, in the 1990s and in 2020, before Azerbaijani forces last September retook control of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in a lightning offensive that ended three decades of Armenian separatist rule over the enclave.
Tensions have remained high since the Azerbaijani operation that triggered the exodus to Armenia of most of the enclave’s entire ethnic-Armenian population of more than 100,000 people.
The dialogue in Berlin built on a surprise direct meeting between the two nations’ leaders on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference last month.
Under German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s mediation, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev agreed in Munich to push on with peace negotiations.

Manila cafe sheds light on Palestinian heritage in wake of destruction

Updated 01 March 2024

Manila cafe sheds light on Palestinian heritage in wake of destruction

  • Cafe Habib is run by Palestinian national Mahmoud Habib and his Filipino-Iraqi wife Nadia
  • Their menu is based on recipes from Habib’s mother in Gaza

Manila: Mahmoud and Nadia Habib opened their cafe in early 2023 to bring a piece of Palestine to the Philippines. Little did they know that the place would soon turn into a center of Gaza heritage and a hub of solidarity in Manila.

Located on Mabini Street, Cafe Habib is light, warm and informal with its white tables, grey sofas and ochre walls showing maps, photos and symbols of Palestinian heritage.

From the beginning, the husband — who is a native of Gaza — and the Filipino-Iraqi wife wanted their restaurant’s ambiance to make Filipinos feel as if they had stepped into a place in Palestine.

“We came up with the concept to create a special place where when customers come in, they will not think they are in the Philippines anymore. We wanted to spotlight Arab culture,” Mahmoud told Arab News.

For Nadia, it is also an attempt to “bring a piece of Palestine to the Philippines” to share its rich heritage, traditions, and flavors.

“The Palestinian-themed cafe became our platform to introduce the Filipino people to the beauty and depth of Palestinian culture. We believed that by immersing them in a unique and authentic experience, we could foster understanding and appreciation,” she said.

Their menu features authentic dishes such as falafel, shawarma, and the iconic Palestinian knafeh — crispy filo dough with cheese soaked in syrup and topped with pistachios — all based on recipes that have been in the Habib family for generations.

“These recipes all come from my mother,” Mahmoud said, adding that Nadia also learned to make them during their trips to his home in Gaza.

The last time they visited was in September, just two weeks before Israel launched its latest deadly onslaught that has since killed at least 30,000 people, wounded tens of thousands more, and displaced about 1.5 million.

They saw the destruction and hid from daily bombardment, only managing to return to Manila when Philippine authorities evacuated some of the Filipino-Palestinians from the besieged enclave in November.

Nadia was born and raised in the Philippines, while Mahmoud has been living in the country since 2013, when he arrived to study architecture at the National University.

Upon their return to Manila, they have been trying to reunite with Mahmoud’s family, but until now, it has been to no avail.

“I tried to bring them, but it is very hard,” he said.

It is their cafe, a reminder of Palestine, that keeps the couple strong and gives them space to spread awareness among Filipinos on what is happening in Gaza.

“Speaking up about Palestine is a crucial aspect of our mission, as it lies at the core of why we established this cafe. If customers initiate a conversation about … Palestine, we wholeheartedly engage in the discussion,” Nadia said.

They also helped facilitate the efforts of Filipino peace activists who organized a Gaza solidarity march in November.

“They gave me more power. This shows that our voice goes out to the world, and everyone really has a huge heart,” Mahmoud said.

“I am proud of (this cafe). I am really happy because I’m showing people what Palestine is, who the Palestinian people are.”

Ex-government adviser urges UK PM to apologize to London mayor over Islamophobia

Updated 01 March 2024

Ex-government adviser urges UK PM to apologize to London mayor over Islamophobia

  • Faith expert Colin Bloom calls remarks against Sadiq Khan by MP Lee Anderson ‘offensive’ and ‘disgusting’
  • Rishi Sunak is ‘not showing the leadership the country needs’

LONDON: UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been urged by a former government advisor to apologize to London Mayor Sadiq Khan over comments made by a suspended Conservative MP.

Colin Bloom, who advised the governing Conservatives on faith matters, told the BBC that Lee Anderson’s remarks were “offensive” and “disgusting,” adding that Sunak is “not showing the leadership the country needs.”

Anderson was suspended last week for refusing to apologize after he said in a TV interview that Khan had “given away” London to Islamists who had “got control” of the mayor.

While admitting his words were “a little bit clumsy,” Anderson said he has received “lots of support privately in WhatsApp groups and messages” from Conservative colleagues. He denies that he or his words were racist or Islamophobic.

Bloom, a former executive director of the Conservative Christian Fellowship and director of Christians in Politics, was made a government advisor by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2019.

Bloom told the BBC’s “Newsnight” program that the “vast majority” of British Muslims are “kind, decent, generous, peaceful people,” and that Anderson’s rhetoric and the muted government response to it are putting people at risk.

Bloom said Sunak needs to apologize to Khan and it is “clearly wrong” for Anderson to have equated the Muslim mayor with being a religious extremist.

Khan has publicly called on Sunak to denounce Anderson’s words as Islamophobic, but while admitting they were “wrong,” the prime minister has so far failed to do so.

A government spokesperson told “Newsnight” that Sunak is “clear there must be zero tolerance for any form of extremism, racism or hatred” in British politics.