India's opposition politicians demand release of Kashmir activists
Opposition political parties held a public meeting in the Indian capital on Thursday, demanding the release of hundreds of activists detained in Indian-administered Kashmir and the immediate resumption of communication services.
The restive Kashmir valley was placed under a security and communications lockdown on the eve of the government's move on 5 August to abrogate laws that gave the Muslim-majority region greater autonomy and split it into two federally administered territories.
The opposition meeting came as restrictions on movement in Indian-administered Kashmir were relaxed in a few more areas but mobile and Internet connectivity remained suspended for the 18th day.
There were small, scattered protests in central areas of the region's main city Srinagar, which remained tense with posters appearing in several areas in which separatist leaders called for a "massive march" on Friday to protest the government's move.
Most primary schools remained closed on Thursday with a few reporting thin attendance. Government offices were functioning but shops and markets stayed closed.
The disputed Kashmir region is divided into two parts, one administered by India and the other by Pakistan. Both claim the region in its entirety and have fought two wars over it. India-administered Kashmir has seen a deadly secessionist movement since the mid 1980s and India accuses Pakistan of aiding and abetting Kashmiri separatists, a charge Pakistan denies.
Tensions between the nuclear-capable South Asian neighbours have spiked after India abrogated constitutional provisions that granted Jammu and Kashmir autonomy to make its own laws and restricted ownership of property and government jobs to people from the region.
All top and second-rung leaders of political parties other than India's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), separatist leaders, some leading Muslim clerics as well as social activists are among those arrested since 4 August and remain in custody.
Local journalists estimate that more than 3,000 people may have been arrested, but this could not be confirmed by journalists.
India-Pakistan rivalry: Kashmiris pay a high price
India and Pakistan continue to clash over Kashmir, a volatile Himalayan region that has been experiencing an armed insurgency for nearly three decades. Many Kashmiris are now fed up with both Islamabad and New Delhi. By Shamil Shams
An unprecedented danger? On 27 February , Pakistan's military said that it had shot down two Indian fighter jets over disputed Kashmir. A Pakistani military spokesman said the jets were shot down after they'd entered Pakistani airspace. It is the first time in history that two nuclear-armed powers have conducted air strikes against each other
India drops bombs inside Pakistan: the Pakistani military has released this image to show that Indian warplanes struck inside Pakistani territory for the first time since the countries went to war in 1971. India said the air strike was in response to a recent suicide attack on Indian troops based in Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan said there were no casualties and that its airforce repelled India's aircraft
No military solution: some Indian civil society members believe New Delhi cannot exonerate itself from responsibility by accusing Islamabad of creating unrest in the Kashmir valley. A number of rights organisations are demanding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government reduce the number of troops in Kashmir and let the people decide their fate
No end to the violence: on 14 February, at least 41 Indian paramilitary police were killed in a suicide bombing near the capital of India-administered Kashmir. The Pakistan-based Jihadi group, Jaish-e-Mohammad, claimed responsibility. The attack, the worst on Indian troops since the insurgency in Kashmir began in 1989, spiked tensions and triggered fears of an armed confrontation between the two nuclear-armed powers
A bitter conflict: since 1989, Muslim insurgents have been fighting Indian forces in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir – a region of 12 million people, about 70 percent of whom are Muslim. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part
India strikes down a militant rebellion: in October 2016, the Indian military launched an offensive against armed rebels in Kashmir, surrounding at least 20 villages in Shopian district. New Delhi accused Islamabad of backing the militants, who cross over the Pakistani-Indian "Line of Control" and launch attacks on India's paramilitary forces
Death of a Kashmiri separatist: the security situation in the Indian part of Kashmir deteriorated after the killing of Burhan Wani, a young separatist leader, in July 2016. Protests against Indian rule and clashes between separatists and soldiers have claimed hundreds of lives since then
The Uri attack: in September 2016, Islamist militants killed at least 17 Indian soldiers and wounded 30 in India-administered Kashmir. The Indian army said the rebels had infiltrated the Indian part of Kashmir from Pakistan, with initial investigations suggesting that the militants belonged to Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad group, which has been active in Kashmir for over a decade
Rights violations: Indian authorities banned a number of social media websites in Kashmir after video clips showing troops committing grave human rights violations went viral on the Internet. One such video that showed a Kashmiri protester tied to an Indian army jeep – apparently as a human shield – generated outrage on social media
Demilitarisation of Kashmir: those in favour of an independent Kashmir want Pakistan and India to step aside and let the Kashmiri people decide their future. "It is time India and Pakistan announce the timetable for withdrawal of their forces from the portions they control and hold an internationally supervised referendum," said Toqeer Gilani, the president of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front in Pakistani Kashmir
Secession not an option: most Kashmir observers don't see a referendum happening in the near future. They say that while the Indian strategy to deal strictly with militants and separatists in Kashmir has partly worked out, sooner or later New Delhi will have to find a political solution to the crisis. Secession, they say, does not stand a chance
"This was done to prevent any law and order situation," a local government official said over phone, but he did not any details of the number of people arrested.
Leaders from the Indian National Congress party, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), Kashmir's National Conference Party and others joined the Delhi protest meeting called by the Dravida Munnetra Khazhagam (DMK), a regional party from southern Tamil Nadu.
"If there is normalcy in Kashmir why did you stop us from going there to see for ourselves?" CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechuri asked.
Several opposition politicians were prevented from leaving the airport at Srinagar, the region's main city, when they flew in over the past two weeks.
"You are hiding what is the reality there and this cannot continue," Yechuri said.
The opposition leaders also demanded the lifting of restrictions on communication in the region and free access to the media.
"We have to recognise that this is no longer a democracy," Congress party lawmaker and a former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said. "How can you change laws without consulting the people of the region ... What they have done is totally unconstitutional."
He demanded that local politicians be immediately released.
"You keep them behind bars and say everything is right ... In the 21st century how can there be a siege of an entire state?"
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was meanwhile in Chantilly, near Paris, on Thursday for a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, who said after their meeting that India and Pakistan should resolve their differences on Kashmir bilaterally.
Macron said he would make the same point soon to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as well as conveying France's concern for "preserving stability in the region and the fight against all forms of terrorism."
The abolition of Kashmir's autonomy was a matter of Modi's "full sovereignty, as far as the judicial aspects are concerned," Macron said.
France would be "attentive" to the "interests and rights" of civilians in both Indian-administered and Pakistani-administered Kashmir, he added.
Modi himself made no specific reference to Kashmir, although, speaking through a translator, he thanked France for "valuable cooperation... in facing cross-border terrorism." (dpa)