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IoK governor calls for calm amid deployment of thousands of Indian troops ahead of 35-A hearing

Updated February 24, 2019

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Security forces patrol in Karan Nagar area, near Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir on Saturday. — AFP
Security forces patrol in Karan Nagar area, near Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir on Saturday. — AFP
An Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel searches a Kashmiri man and his scooter next to a road sign asking to stop for checking in Srinagar on February 24, 2019.  — AFP
An Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel searches a Kashmiri man and his scooter next to a road sign asking to stop for checking in Srinagar on February 24, 2019. — AFP

As rumours circulated about India's deployment of 10,000 more troops in occupied Kashmir in the wake of rising tensions after the Pulwama attack, Indian-occupied Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik called for calm, saying the movement of troops was part of a poll exercise, Indian media reported.

The movement of troops caused alarm among locals, who began stockpiling rations and medicines as authorities remained mum about the increased deployment in the occupied territory.

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti on Sunday tweeted about "the sense of unease and panic in Kashmir" as well. "Nobody has a clue about what is to come but an ominous feeling of impending doom hangs in the air," she said.

Govenor Malik late on Saturday dismissed apprehensions of war, saying that in occupied Kashmir, "rumours become news".

"There is no need to panic. A six-member team of election commission of India is coming to [occupied] Kashmir and we need to discuss these security parameters with them and we want to hold timely elections and want to show the team that we are capable of holding elections on time," Malik said, as quoted by the Hindustan Times.

Mehbooba Mufti also noted that "public anger has been diverted towards Kashmiris" in the wake of the Pulwama attack, in a reference to the intensifying harassment and discrimination of Kashmiris across India.

More than 700 Kashmiri students, workers and traders have returned to occupied Kashmir from the rest of India to escape reprisals for the attack, which has also ratcheted up regional tensions after India alleged that those who planned the attacks had links with Pakistan — a charge that Islamabad has vigorously denied.

"They have never been subjected to this kind of unbridled hostility," Mufti continued. "You want Kashmir, yet wage a war against its people? What are they being punished for? Why brutalise them?" she asked.

2 killed in gunbattle

Meanwhile, an Indian counterinsurgency police officer and a Kashmiri fighter were killed during a gunbattle on Sunday, officials said, as shops and businesses shut down to protest a sweeping and ongoing crackdown against activists seeking the end of Indian rule in the disputed region.

The fighting triggered large anti-India protests and clashes as hundreds of residents thronged a village in the southern Kulgam area while barraging troops with stones. An army officer was injured in the fighting, which was still raging later on Sunday.

Indian government forces fired shotgun pellets and tear gas to quell the protesters, injuring at least half a dozen civilians, residents and medics said.

Police and paramilitary soldiers patrolled streets in Srinagar, and enforced a security lockdown in its downtown area in anticipation of protests and clashes.

Carrying automatic rifles and wearing riot gear, soldiers and police erected iron barricades and laid razor wire on roads and intersections to cut off neighbourhoods.

As part of the crackdown which began on Friday night, police arrested at least 200 Jamaat-e-Islami activists ahead of a hearing on Article 35-A in the Indian Supreme Court on Monday. Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front Chairman Yasin Malik was also among those taken into custody.

The JI in a statement termed the crackdown a "well-designed conspiracy to further add to the already deteriorated situation in occupied Kashmir", raising questions over the timing of the arrest "when petitions challenging Article 35-A were listed in the Indian Supreme Court".

Article 35-A empowers the Jammu and Kashmir legislature to define the state’s "permanent residents" and their special rights and privileges.

The Kashmir Media Service reported on Sunday that Indian police had arrested the All Parties Hurriyat Conference General Secretary Ghulam Nabi Samjhi and dozens of JI activists.

Vice President Jamiat Ahle Hadees Maulana Mushtaq Ahmad Veeri and Difaye Jamiat Ahle Hadees leader Maulana Mohammad Maqbool Akhrani were also among the arrested.

Additionally, 13 more JI activists were arrested in overnight raids in the Islamabad and Shopian districts while 10 people were arrested in overnight crackdowns in Shopian.

Residents fear the crackdown could be a prelude to a military strike by India against Pakistan or the tinkering of IoK's special status in India’s constitution as provided under Article 35-A. India’s SC has yet to give its verdict on a petition against the special provision that it has been hearing for more than a year.

But Governor Malik claimed that "nothing big" was going to happen, The Hindustan Times reported. "How can the government do anything to that (Article 35-A)? These are only rumours and people shouldn't panic," he was quoted as saying.

The KMS reported that a complete shutdown is being observed across IoK today against arbitrary arrests, killings and alleged attempts to repeal Article 35-A.

They noted that the strike call had been given by the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) comprising Syed Ali Gilani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik.

KMS reported that all shops and businesses in Srinagar and other districts had been shut down while traffic was also off the roads.

According to KMS, Indian authorities have imposed "curfew-like restrictions" in Srinagar and other areas to prevent protests against the mass detentions.

They added that restrictions had been particularly imposed in the Rainawari, Nowhatta, Khanyar, Maharaj Gunj and Safa Kadal areas of Srinagar and noted that that heavy contingents of Indian police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have been deployed in almost all cities of IoK.

Read more:Fear engulfs Muslims living in occupied Kashmir after Pulwama attack

International Kashmir conference to be held in Islamabad

An international conference focusing on Indian brutalities in occupied Kashmir will be held in Islamabad on Monday, Radio Pakistan reported.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) President Sardar Masood Khan and former Norwegian prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik will address the conference, organised by the think tank 'Pakistan House'.

Various national and international dignitaries, including APHC leaders, are expected to address the conference.