India’s warning to tourists sparks tensions in occupied Kashmir

Published August 3, 2019
Media reports say 25,000 military reinforcements have been sent to the Himalayan region.  — AFP/File
Media reports say 25,000 military reinforcements have been sent to the Himalayan region. — AFP/File

SRINAGAR: Indian authorities on Friday told tourists to leave Kashmir because of “terror threats”, as media reports said 25,000 military reinforcements have been sent to the Himalayan region.

The extra troops and other security measures, including a call to stockpile food and fuel, have shaken up the disputed region.

Long lines of cars formed outside petrol stations while residents queued at food stores and bank cash machines to get emergency supplies.

The Jammu and Kashmir state government said that because of “intelligence inputs of terror threats” against a huge Hindu pilgrimage and “the prevailing security situation”, pilgrims and tourists should leave “immediately”.

Residents and politicians fear the Indian government may be planning to scrap special job and property rights for Kashmiris

The Indian government has admitted that 10,000 extra troops had been sent to India-held Kashmir a week ago. Media reports on Friday said the deployment of 25,000 more troops in the area had been ordered.

However, Kashmir’s police chief Dilbagh Singh called the new figure “exaggerated”.

Uprising fears

As tensions build, near-daily clashes between Indian forces and pro-freedom fighters in Kashmir and with Pakistan forces across the border go on.

Two fighters accused of staging attacks on Indian government forces were killed recently in a gun battle, according to police.

Residents and Kashmiri politicians fear that security is a preliminary smokescreen before the Hindu nationalist government carries out a threat to scrap special job and property rights for Kashmiris.

Political leaders in the disputed territory have warned that cancelling the constitutionally guaranteed rights could spark unrest.

To add to public nerves, a police order to gather details on every mosque and its leaders was leaked on social media this week.

A top police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said officers have been “advised” to send their families to safe places and build up food reserves.

Many owners of petrol stations said officials also asked them to keep vehicle fuel stocks at full capacity.

“It’s part of a constantly changing security plan to counter a possible public uprising,” the police official added.

A statement by Jammu and Kashmir state’s governor Satya Pal Malik that “everything is normal” in the region has not convinced the public.

“The anxiety among Kashmiris is real as this government has not hidden its intentions,” said Noor Ahmad Baba, a political commentator and politics professor at the University of Kashmir.

Article 35A of the constitution that prevents Indians from outside the territory buying land or claiming government jobs in Kashmir has long been targeted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The article has been challenged in the Supreme Court by right-wing Hindu groups and Modi’s Hindu nationalist party has promised to repeal it even without court backing.

Kashmir has surged back into the spotlight since a deadly militant attack on an Indian convoy in February sparked cross-border air attacks by the nuclear-armed rivals.

US President Donald Trump angered India last month when he said that Modi had asked him to mediate in the Kashmir dispute.

Trump reaffirmed an offer to mediate on Thursday.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2019

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