ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thursday again called on India to lift communication blockade on occupied Jammu and Kashmir and ensure supplies of essential commodities in the valley to contain the spread of COVID-19 and mitigate the suffering of Kashmiris.
“We call upon the Indian government to lift the communication blackout. Especially in view of the outbreak of COVID-19 and reported cases of affected people in IOK, Pakistan urges India to lift the blockade in the region in order to obtain full information on affected people and provision of essential items and medical supplies to the affected people,” Foreign Office Spokesperson Aisha Farooqui said at the weekly media briefing.
The media briefing was held under the new format introduced as part of social distancing measures taken by FO in view of COVID-19. The opening remarks of the spokesperson were televised, while replies to questions received from media persons through emails were included in the transcript issued later.
Special Assistant to Prime Minister Dr Zafar Mirza, while participating in Saarc leaders’ video conference on COVID-19 last Sunday, had emphasised that it was imperative in view of the health emergency that the lockdown in the occupied territory was lifted immediately opening up communications and movement for facilitating dissemination of information, distribution of medical supplies and relief efforts.
As of Thursday, four cases were reported from Jammu and Kashmir, while another eight from Ladakh. Two parts of occupied Kashmir were split last August when the Indian government revoked the special status of the occupied region. Despite the growing number of coronavirus cases in the occupied territory, Indian authorities have continued the communication blockade and lockdown of the valley.
The Indian government on March 17 extended restrictions on high speed internet in the occupied valley on the pretext of security. Curbs on internet have been in place since Aug 5, when Delhi revoked Article 370 that provided for occupied Kashmir’s special status.
The spokesperson said that because of the continuing lockdown, the Kashmiris were being deprived of their fundamental freedoms; their right to liberty, health, education and food.
The spokesperson called on Afghan factions to implement the US-Taliban Peace Agreement and hoped that it would lead to start of intra-Afghan negotiations.
“Pakistan has always supported an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. We hope that after the peace agreement in Doha on 29 February 2020 all sides will move towards intra-Afghan negotiations to establish long-lasting peace in Afghanistan,” Ms Farooqui said.
The intra-Afghan talks were scheduled to commence on March 10, but differences between the Afghan government and Taliban over prisoners’ swap agreed under the Doha Accord have blocked further progress.
Under the agreement, the Afghan government was to set free 5000 Taliban prisoners and insurgents were to release 1000 captives, but no prisoners have been released so far.
The Afghan government, which was not part of US-Taliban negotiations that led to the agreement, conditionally agreed to release 1500 Taliban prisoners in batches, but Taliban refused to accept Kabul’s plan. This difference has led to impasse in the implementation of the peace plan.
The situation has been further complicated by the political crisis in Afghanistan because of the controversy over presidential elections.
Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2020