Indian Occupied Kashmir ‘about to blow’: NYT says in detailed report on deepening crisis

NEW YORK, Aug 23 (APP):”Bringing Kashmir to heel has been a Hindu-nationalist dream” — the only Muslim-majority state that India annexed on Aug. 5, setting off a grave crisis in the disputed region, The New York Times said in a comprehensive dispatch published Friday.
“Kashmir was an obvious sore for the nationalist political movement that has flourished among India’s Hindu majority, powering (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi’s stunning rise,” the Times reported from New Delhi in a dispatch by-lined to four of the newspaper’s correspondents.
“For decades,” it said, “Kashmir has been racked by militancy, oppression and unrest. Kashmiris are feeling especially demoralized and cornered now. The fear is that the area is about to blow, and even with phone lines cut, leaders in jail and soldiers on every street, protests are erupting. Some are peaceful. Others descend into stone-pelting clashes.
“But the fury is there, always,” the Times declared.
“There is only one solution!” the crowds cheer, the newspaper, adding: “Gun solution! Gun solution!”
Citing critics, the newspaper said that even under India’s tough public safety laws this is illegal, and that Prime Minister Modi is bending the Indian legal system to cut off any possible criticism in Kashmir and go after anyone with a voice — be that a successful merchant, a politician or a professor.
“Kashmir is silent as a graveyard,” Vrinda Grover, a human rights lawyer, was quoted as saying.
“The Indian government isn’t revealing what charges the detainees face or how long they will be held. Some were reported to have been flown on secret air force flights to jails in Lucknow, Varanasi and Agra,” the Times said.
On Thursday, the United Nations Human Rights Office said it was “gravely concerned.’’
And five UN Human Rights experts expressed concern that the measures, imposed after the Indian Parliament revoked the Constitutionally-mandated status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, would exacerbate tensions in the region.
“The shutdown of the internet and telecommunication networks, without justification from the Government, are inconsistent with the fundamental norms of necessity and proportionality,” the experts said in a statement.
“The blackout is a form of collective punishment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, without even a pretext of a precipitating offence.”
The Government has also imposed a curfew across Jammu and Kashmir, with massive numbers of troops brought in to enforce movement and peaceful assembly restrictions, particularly in the Kashmir Valley.
“We remind the Indian authorities that the restrictions imposed by the Indian Government are intrinsically disproportionate, because they preclude considerations of the specific circumstances of each proposed assembly,” the experts stated.
At the same time, information received suggests an increase in the arrest of political figures, journalists, human rights defenders, protesters and others.
The experts expressed deep concern over reports that security forces were conducting night raids on private homes leading to the arrests of young people.
“Such detentions could constitute serious human rights violations,” the experts spelled out. “The allegations must be thoroughly investigated by the authorities, and, if confirmed, those responsible must be held accountable”.
Moreover, they are “gravely concerned” over allegations that “the whereabouts of some of those detained is not known”, heightening the risk of enforced disappearances, “which may proliferate against the backdrop of mass arrests and restricted access to the internet and other communications networks”.
The experts also raised the alarm over excessive force against protesters, including the use of live ammunition, which could amount to violations of the right to life.
“India has the responsibility to use the minimum force necessary when policing protests,” the experts concluded. “This means that the use of deadly force is a measure permissible only as last resort and to protect life.”
The UN experts are David Kaye Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Bernard Duhaime, Chair-Rapporteur, Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association; and Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
Citing political analysts, the Times said the mass roundup was the final piece of a step-by-step plan that Mr. Modi’s government set into motion last year.
This included postponing state elections in Kashmir to create a gap in local leadership. Indian officials then changed India’s Constitution and moved to erase Kashmir’s autonomy and statehood without any input from Kashmiris — though many lawyers have said that might not be legal, either.
“Mr. Modi’s move instantly raised tensions with Pakistan, a Muslim-majority nation that also claims part of Kashmir. Its prime minister, Imran Khan, harshly criticized Mr. Modi on Wednesday, saying he had rebuffed Mr. Khan’s requests to talk,” the dispatch said.
“Both nations are nuclear-armed, and President (Donald) Trump has urged them to reduce tensions and to avoid tipping the crisis over into war.
“But Mr. Modi seems intent on digging in, and he has the Indian public firmly behind him. Many Indians see Kashmir as an integral part of India, and this move has stirred up jingoist feelings.
It said the Indian Home Ministry will not answer questions about the mass arrests, including how many people have been taken into custody. “The Foreign Ministry won’t say why foreign journalists continue to be blocked from setting foot in Kashmir, even when government officials insist the situation is returning to normal.”
Modi has said that the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which includes the war-torn Kashmir Valley, had suffered too long and needed a change. He promised that the new arrangement would improve governance, bring peace and boost outside investment, which many Kashmiris question, especially now that business leaders have been thrown in jail.
“Who will invest there?” Farooq Kathwari, a prominent Kashmiri and the chief executive officer of Ethan Allen, the American furniture chain, was quoted as saying by the Times.
The way Indian security officials have handled this, he said, “has taken the dignity of the people. They have created a rage, and that rage will get them to do all kinds of things.”
Among the people who were rounded up were Mian Qayoom, president of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association; Mohammed Yasin Khan, chairman of the Kashmir Economic Alliance; Raja Muzaffar Bhat, an anticorruption crusader; Fayaz Ahmed Mir, a tractor driver and Arabic scholar; and Mehbooba Mufti, the first woman elected as Kashmir’s chief minister.
Shah Faesal, another politician, was arrested at New Delhi’s international airport, bags checked, boarding pass in hand, heading for a fellowship at Harvard, according to the dispatch. Several prominent state politicians have also been put under house arrest; they told Indian news outlets they had been ordered not to engage in any “political activity.”
“These detentions are totally illegal and unconstitutional,” Zaffar Shah, a Kashmiri lawyer, was quoted as saying.
Mubeen Shah, 63, a wealthy merchant, was also arrested from his home in the middle of the night. His wife is still stunned about him being taken away. He was “just a business guy,” she said, who dealt in Kashmiri curios and carpets and had tried to woo foreign investors to build new electricity plants in Kashmir.
She said some of the state police officers — Kashmiris — seemed reluctant to arrest him, but that dozens of heavily armed federal officers were at their back, according to the Times.
Citing analysts, the dispatch said All this was carefully set into motion in three big steps:
“Step one came in June 2018, when the Kashmir branch of Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, known as the B.J.P., abruptly pulled out of a coalition government in the state assembly, leaving the leading Kashmiri political party without a majority. That meant the governor — a central government figure, part of the Modi administration — took over.
“Kashmiri politicians started to get nervous. They feared that Mr. Modi was plotting to change Article 370 of India’s Constitution, which guaranteed Kashmir special land rights and a fair degree of autonomy to write its own laws. Dismantling this article was a goal stated in Mr. Modi’s campaign manifesto.
“Article 370 says that any changes to Kashmir’s status must be done in consultation with Kashmiri representatives. But Kashmiri politicians knew that if the state continued to be ruled by a governor, without a state assembly, there was a risk that Mr. Modi might make changes without them.
“In November 2018, Ms. (Mehbooba) Mufti, Kashmir’s former chief minister, sent a fax to the governor — which she posted on social media — saying she had found enough allies and was ready to form a new government.
“But the governor suddenly dissolved the state assembly. That was step two. The governor claimed he hadn’t received Ms. Mufti’s fax. He called for fresh elections.
“That led to step three: the blocking of those elections.
“According to an Indian official who said he would face harassment if his name were revealed, a team of experienced civil servants appointed by the national election commission recommended that Kashmir hold elections around June.
“But B.J.P. lawmakers seemed to be stalling, the official said, and came up with some curious reasons: They said that if Kashmir’s elections were held in June, militants could hide in the tall summer grass, so November would be better.
“The election commission then postponed the elections to later in the year, without setting any date.
“That meant there was no functioning state assembly when Mr. Modi revoked Kashmir’s autonomy on Aug. 5. His government claimed that in the absence of a state assembly, the central government had the power to do this.”
“The government had to engineer some other method to gain the levers of power,” Happymon Jacob, a political scientist in New Delhi, was quoted as saying. “They simply would not be able to do what they did had there been elections.”
The final step was the lockdown, the dispatch said, while pointing out:
“Shortly after midnight on Aug. 5, just hours before Mr. Modi’s government would announce that Kashmir’s autonomy was over, the Indian authorities cut internet and phone service and activated thousands of federal security officers.
As dozens surrounded Mubeen Shah, others moved house to house, across the valley, looking for specific people. At least 20 stormed the home of Mr. Bhat, the anticorruption activist, his family said.
“Mr. Bhat’s family said he had never been arrested before, ‘not even for one hour.’
“When his wife, Fozia Kauser, asked why this was happening, the Kashmiri police said they didn’t know. Again, the response was: orders.
“Human rights activists say the Indian government may be using the Public Safety Act, which allows the authorities to hold suspects without charges for up to two years if they are deemed threats to the state. But there are still rules, including an advisory board review.
“A few days after Mr. Shah, the rug and crafts merchant, was arrested, his elder brother, Niaz, tracked him down at a Srinagar jail. Mubeen Shah asked the guards if he could hug his brother. They said yes.
“The next morning, Niaz Shah came back with some spare clothes.
“But guards told him his brother was gone, on a military plane to Agra.”

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