Asia Pacific

India promises easing of restrictions, food for Kashmir during Islamic Eid al-Adha festival

AP, Reuters, AFP-JIJI

Authorities enforcing a strict curfew in Indian-administered Kashmir promised easing of restrictions on Sunday and essential supplies for an Islamic festival, but the divided Himalayan region remained in a lockdown after India’s decision to strip it of its constitutional autonomy.

Pakistan said that with the support of China, it will take up India’s unilateral actions in Kashmir with the U.N. Security Council and may approach the U.N. Human Rights Commission over what it says is the “genocide” of the Kashmiri people.

“I have shared with China that the Pakistan government has decided to take this issue to U.N. Security Council. We will be needing China’s help there,” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a news conference on Saturday. “China has assured full support to Pakistan.”

Qureshi said he planned to approach Indonesia and Poland, both nonpermanent members of the 15-strong Security Council, for their support. He said that India’s moves have increased the threat to regional peace and raised fears of bloodshed in Kashmir.

“When a demographic change is made through force, it’s called genocide, and you are moving toward genocide,” he told reporters in Islamabad after returning from Beijing.

The Indian ambassador to Pakistan, Ajay Bisaria, left Islamabad on Saturday night after Pakistan retaliated against India by lowering diplomatic ties. Fourteen other Indian mission officials and their families also left Islamabad, airport official Mohammad Wasim Ahmed said.

Pakistan on Saturday also canceled a bus linking Lahore with New Delhi, the last remaining public transport link between the neighbors.

Pakistan has already cut two rail links, suspended bilateral trade and expelled India’s ambassador, all part of what it called a diplomatic effort to protest against the decision.

Arshad Ali, tourism officer at Pakistan Tourism Development Corp. which runs the Pakistan leg of the journey, told Reuters the government had issued directives that meant the bus, that departs Lahore six days a week at 6 a.m., was suspended from Saturday onward.

Kashmir is claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan and is divided between the archrivals. Rebels have been fighting New Delhi’s rule for decades in the Indian-controlled portion, and most Kashmiri residents want either independence or a merger with Pakistan.

Gov. Satya Pal Malik said in interviews with television networks that there would be easing of restrictions and adequate essential supplies for Monday’s Eid al-Adha festival.

His comments came as India’s main opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi, on Saturday demanded a statement from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the situation in Kashmir, saying there are reports of violence and people dying.

Talking to reporters in New Delhi, Gandhi said “things are going very wrong there,” and called for the Indian government to make clear what is happening.

Gandhi later on Saturday was replaced as party leader by his mother, Sonia Gandhi, who once again took the reins of the Congress party. Rahul Gandhi stepped down after a second straight election drubbing by Modi, a right-wing Hindu nationalist. The 49-year-old Gandhi, who was seeking to become the fourth member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to become prime minister, quit in July after the latest big loss at the polls in the April-May elections.

Critics have blamed Rahul Gandhi’s lackluster leadership and political management for the party’s setbacks.

In Srinagar, Kashmir’s main city, authorities said there have been instances of stone pelting by protesters but no gun firing by security forces in the past six days. Television images on Saturday showed movement of cars and people in some parts of Kashmir.

“There has been no untoward incident barring minor stone-pelting, which was dealt with on the spot and was nipped in the bud,” Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh told the Press Trust of India news agency.

On Thursday, Modi assured the people of Jammu and Kashmir that normalcy would gradually return and that the government was ensuring that the current restrictions do not dampen the Islamic Eid festival on Monday.

New Delhi rushed tens of thousands of additional soldiers to one of the world’s most militarized regions to prevent unrest and protests after Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government said Monday that it was revoking Kashmir’s special constitutional status and downgrading its statehood. Modi said the move was necessary to free the region of “terrorism and separatism.”

The indefinite 24-hour curfew was briefly eased on Friday for weekly Muslim prayers in some parts of Srinagar, but thousands of residents are still forced to stay indoors with shops and most health clinics closed. All communications and the internet remain cut off.

Following Friday prayers, police used tear gas and pellets to fight back the protesters who gathered in their largest numbers since authorities clamped down and detained more than 500 political and separatist leaders.

Other stone-throwing incidents were reported from the northern and southern parts of Kashmir.

Authorities were closely watching for any anti-India protests, which will determine a further easing of restrictions for the Eid holiday.

The region’s top administrative official, Baseer Khan, said that essential commodities including food, grains and meat will be delivered to different parts of the region by Sunday.

In the meantime, most residents have been waking up before dawn to get food and other supplies stockpiled by neighborhood shopkeepers and pharmacists inside their homes. Shortly after dawn, police and paramilitary soldiers swiftly occupy the roads and streets as part of the restrictions on movement.

While some easing on the movement and opening of shops is expected around Eid, officials still held reservations about restoring mobile and internet services. Some relaxation of curbs on landline communication, however, could be considered, they said.

With India moving to erase the constitutional provision that prohibited outsiders from buying property in Jammu and Kashmir state, Indians from the rest of the country can now purchase real estate and apply for government jobs there. Some fear this may lead to a demographic and cultural change in the Muslim-majority region.

Also Saturday, a regional political party from Kashmir petitioned the Supreme Court to strike down the government’s move to scrap the region’s special status and divide the state into two federal territories. The National Conference in its plea claimed the move was illegal. An opposition Congress party activist has already filed a petition challenging the communications blockade and the detentions of Kashmiri leaders.

The United States on Friday said that there has been no change in its policy on Kashmir, as Washington continues to regard it as a territory disputed between India and Pakistan.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus described Kashmir as “certainly an incredibly important issue” that the United States continued to “follow closely.”