No phone calls, no groceries: Kashmir on edge under lockdown
Tens of thousands of government forces in riot gear patrol Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Streets lined with shuttered shops are deserted, steel barricades and razor wire cutting off neighbourhoods. An eerie silence is broken by an occasional security vehicle whizzing past or the cawing of crows.
An unprecedented security lockdown amid a near-total communications blackout entered a fourth day on Thursday, forcing some news organisations to hand-carry dispatches out of the region.
The lives of millions in India's only Muslim-majority region have been upended since the latest - and most serious - crackdown while New Delhi moved to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and downgrade the Himalayan region from statehood to a territory.
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
In central Srinagar, the region's main city, few pedestrians ventured out of their homes to navigate barbed-wire checkpoints guarded by helmeted soldiers in camouflage, wielding rifles and protective shields. Shopping malls, grocery stores and even clinics were closed.
In previous security clampdowns, neighbourhood bodegas had opened their doors for a few hours a day after dark so that people could buy necessities like milk, grains and baby food. It is not clear whether the stores have opened in the current crackdown. Residents are used to stockpiling essentials, a practice they've honed during harsh winter months when roads and communications lines are often snapped.
The communication blackout - with landlines, cell phones and Internet all down - means that people within Kashmir can't call one another or speak to friends and relatives outside the region, relying only on limited cable TV and local radio reports.
In a nationally broadcast address on Thursday night, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his government made the move to free the region of "terrorism and separatism." He added that the situation will soon "return to normal gradually," although he gave no specifics.
At the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital in Srinagar, doctors told journalists on Thursday that at least 50 people had come in with wounds from pellet guns and rubber bullets, the ammunition security forces often use to disperse protests.
Razir Mir, 32, described hearing a loud bang on Monday and opening his front door to find his wife, Rabiya, "face down on the street. Blood was pouring from her eyes," he said.
Rabiya, who was left with blurred vision, said that after hearing the government's announcement that Kashmir's special status had been stripped, she thought to buy vegetables, anticipating a long curfew period in Srinagar. "The moment I came out from my house, the soldiers out there shot at my direction," she said, as the couple's 2-year-old cried.
Rubeena Mehraj from central Kashmir was convalescing at the hospital after giving birth. "When I called for an ambulance, I started traveling to Srinagar because I was expecting, but the ambulance was stopped at so many (checkpoints) along the route that I gave birth inside the vehicle," Mehraj said.
Outside the busy hospital, people struggled to communicate with family and neighbours. A woman peering out of a window asked a group of reporters if they could find out about a sick person from a family living nearby.
"We've no contact," the middle-aged woman said before she could give her name as soldiers ordered journalists to move on.
Partition of India: The way forward
On 15 August 1947, British India split into two nations – Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. The two countries continue to be hostile towards each other despite some efforts to improve bilateral ties. By Shamil Shams
Birth of two nations: in 1947, British India was divided into two countries – India and Pakistan. Pakistan's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his All-India Muslim League party had first demanded autonomy for Muslim-majority areas in the undivided India and only later a separate country for Muslims. Jinnah believed that Hindus and Muslims could not continue to live together, as they were distinctly different "nations"
The line of blood: the partition of British India was extremely violent. Following the birth of India and Pakistan, violent communal riots began in many western areas, mostly in Punjab. Historians say that more than a million people died in clashes and millions more migrated from Indian territory to Pakistan and from the Pakistani side to India
The 1948 war: India and Pakistan clashed over Kashmir soon after their independence. The Muslim-majority Kashmir region was ruled by a Hindu leader, but Jinnah wanted it to be part of Pakistani territory. Indian and Pakistani troops fought in Kashmir in 1948, with India taking control of most part of the valley, while Pakistan occupied a smaller area. India and Pakistan continue to clash over Kashmir
Like U.S. and Canada? Liberal historians say that Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi wanted cordial ties between newly independent states. Jinnah, for instance, believed that ties between India and Pakistan should be similar to those between the US and Canada. But after his death in 1948, his successors followed a collision course with New Delhi
The 'other': Indian and Pakistani governments present very different accounts of partition. While India emphasises the Indian National Congress' freedom movement against British rulers – with Gandhi as its main architect – Pakistani textbooks focus on a "struggle" against both British and Hindu "oppression". State propaganda in both countries paints each other as an "enemy" that cannot be trusted
Worsening ties: diplomatic ties between India and Pakistan have remained acrimonious for the past seven decades. The issue of Islamist terrorism has marred relations in the last few years, with New Delhi accusing Islamabad of backing Islamist jihadists to wage a war in India-administered Kashmir. India also blames Pakistan-based groups for launching terror attacks on Indian soil. Islamabad denies these claims
The way forward: many young people in both India and Pakistan are urging their governments to improve bilateral ties. Islamabad-based documentary filmmaker Wajahat Malik believes the best way for India and Pakistan to develop a closer relationship is through more interaction between their peoples. "Trade and tourism are the way forward for us. When people come together, the states will follow suit"
No news was coming from elsewhere in the tense region. Police and paramilitary officials enforcing the restrictions said they were clueless about how long the curfew would continue. "We know only about what's going on in the street we're deployed. We don't know how it is in the next street," said a police official in Srinagar's city centre who could not be named in accordance with standard practice.
No official briefings for journalists were held nor curfew passes issued to any, a departure from previous security clampdowns.
Many local police officials expressed fury that they were left out of any decision-making, ratcheting up friction between local Kashmiri police and Indian soldiers on the ground.
On Sunday, in the run-up to India's decision to revoke Kashmir's autonomy, the top commander of the largest rebel group, Reyaz Naikoo, in an audio statement called local police to "redeem" themselves by refusing to enforce New Delhi's orders.
"India can make changes on paper, but they can't change our sentiments for freedom," said Naikoo, the operations commander of Hizbul Mujahideen. "India has embarked upon plans to change Kashmir's demography, but India is fighting a lost war. They're here by deceit and deception."
The nuclear-armed neighbours have been unable to resolve their competing claims on the territory divided between them.
The Indian side has experienced several separatist movements since then, including a bloody rebellion begun in 1989 to demand independence or a merger with Pakistan. Over 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the subsequent brutal military crackdown. (AP)