Briefing (December 08-14, 2019)

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KERALA

Post-August 5, people have innovated systems to express solidarity with the Kashmiri people. Musthujab Makkolath, 27, a Kerala resident has joined 25 volunteers of Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) that produces a poster daily, since the twentieth day of the Kashmir lockdown. In one of the posters, there is an apple almost buried in a field of snow; then there is one which depicts a snow sculpture in the shape of Jammu & Kashmir with pale blood on it. Yet another one shows a black-coloured Kashmir when the rest of India is shown to be on the internet grid. On Diwali, in a stark blood-coloured background, there is a black Jammu and Kashmir with a lamp-lit at the centre. These popular posters appear with hashtags ‘Kashmir caged’, and ‘stand with Kashmir’; and carry some text in prose or poetry.

The posters are the imagination of Musthujab, a Calicut-based Farook College, who is a Malayalam literature graduate, now working as a designer and a digital art curator. He has masters in mass communication from SIAS Media School.

PULWAMA

National Investigation Agency (NIA) has filed a charge-sheet before a Delhi court in the February 14 Pulwama car bomb blast that killed more than 40 CRPF personnel. It alleges that Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) recruits Sajjad Ahmad Khan, Tanvir Ahmad Ganie, Bilal Ahmad Mir and Muzzafar Ahmad Bhat planned similar attacks in the National Capital Region (NCR). Khan, who was arrested in March from Old Delhi, according to the charge-sheet, had allegedly carried out reconnaissance near-critical government facilities such as South Block and Central Secretariat and areas like Delhi’s Civil Lines, BK Dutt Colony, Kashmere Gate, Lodhi Estate, Mandi House, Daryaganj as well as in Ghaziabad. The arrest of the other three followed that of Khan. The charge sheet alleges that the detained four were in regular touch with Mudassir Ahmad, the blast mastermind who was killed in Tral on March 10. It said they were using “virtual mobile numbers” generated mostly in the US, to communicate. VMNs work through a server for which users sign up by downloading an app on their smart-phones and the number was used to sign up for services like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and email accounts. The charge-sheet mentions Ahmad’s two VMNs: +19046063123 and +19042990636 and that of Kari Mufti – a recruit who crossed into Kashmir in anticipation of the attack, as +18143261052. Mir was arrested in April and was used +19016677146, according to the charge sheet.

Of 5161 persons detained in Kashmir since Aug 4, only 609 are currently in detention – 234 in UP and 27 in Haryana. There are 3509 prisoners in jails across Jammu and Kashmir. In 2018, as many as 2,728 people were in Jammu and Kashmir jails and 41 in outside jails

SRINAGAR

Eye hospitals in Kashmir’s private sector are projecting pellet injury treatment as a speciality. A hoarding within the premises’ of The Shifa Hospital in Srinagar reads: “Pellet Injury In The Eye. Rush Here”. The hospital said that its visiting doctors are experienced in treating patients with pellet injuries, Outlook reported. “The hospital management says the doctors see, on a daily basis, around 25 pellet-blinds,” the magazine said. “Private hospitals in the Valley also use radio, newspapers and hoardings to attract pellet victims.”

An editorial in the Lancet said 1253 persons were blinded by pellet guns between 2016 and 2018. The government in November 2017 admitted that 1725 persons suffered pellet injuries during the 2016 unrest. In 2018, the magazine said official figures put the number of persons with pellet injuries in their eyes at 395 persons.

Managing pellet injuries is costly. “Fortnightly, it costs a patient around Rs 1500 to 3000 to buy medicines,” the magazine said. “The surgery costs between (Rs) 50,000 and 80,000 at private hospitals.”

SRINAGAR

Though the UT government has not withdrawn the holiday on the birth anniversary of Sheikh Abdullah, it did not permit the National Conference to hold a public function to pay homage to him. The party had sought permission for a public meeting in Srinagar but was not granted. A number of NC workers, however, managed to reach Sheikh’s mausoleum at Naseeb Bagh where they prayed for his peace till eternity. The main function was reported from Jammu where the party leaders demanded immediate release of political detainees. It asked Delhi to win the hearts and minds of people by reaching out to them and understanding their aspirations rather than keeping their leaders in detention. Party headquarters at Nawai-e-Subh also witnessed a small function.

Sheikh’s son Dr Farooq Abdullah is formally arrested and his grand grandson, Omar Abdullah is under preventive custody since August 5. Sheikh daughter Khalida and another son, Dr Mustafa Kamal are also under house arrest. NCs frontline and the second rung leadership is restricted for the last four months, however, their Jammu chapter is free and working.

Dr Abdullah, however, was in news because of his letter that he had written to Congress’s Kerala MP Shashi Tharoor. “Thank you for your letter on 21st October 2019 which has been delivered to me today by my magistrate who looks after me while I am in the sub-jail,” Abdullah wrote on December 2. “It is most unfortunate that they are not able to deliver me my post in time. I am sure this is not the way to treat a senior Member of the Parliament and leader of a political party. We are not criminals.”

Sharing the letter on Twitter, Tharoor wrote: “Members of Parliament should be allowed to attend the session as a matter of parliamentary privilege. Otherwise the tool of arrest can be used to muzzle opposition voices. Participation in Parliament is essential [for]democracy [and]popular sovereignty.”

Almost 2000 paramilitary personnel – 16 companies of BSF and four from CRPF have been de-inducted from Kashmir

TURKEY

Economics overtakes diplomacy. At the peak of the cold war over Kashmir between Ankara and Delhi, Turkey faced an uncertain future in a US $2.3 billion shipping contract as sections in policymaking supported the call against visiting Turkey. Now the soaring onion crisis has shown some undoing to the diplomatic downswing. On November 22, Modi government’s Price Stabilisation Fund Management Committee (PSFMC) decided to import 11000 metric tonnes (MT) of onion 5500 MTs each of red and yellow, from Turkey and the shipment will reach Indian shores on January 7. Besides, 6,090 MT will come from Egypt and 5,000 MT from the Netherlands.  Meanwhile, Turkey has reportedly shown some interest in purchasing an Indian made warplane.

LONDON

Last month, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, national security adviser to two former British Prime Ministers’ told a conference that continued Kashmir crisis has costs for Britain as 70 percent of the Pakistani immigrants belong to the Pakistani side of Kashmir. Last week, he was vindicated when the Scotland Yard shot dead Usman Khan, a Briton with Mirpur origins, on the London Bridge, for stabbing two people.

Details appearing in British media suggest that Usman Khan was arrested by British police on December 20, 2010, when he was 19-years-old for his terrorist tendencies and sentenced to a minimum of eight years in prison in 2012.

Last week, Khan, now 28, strapped on a fake suicide vest, armed himself with large kitchen knives and went on the rampage at a conference on prisoner rehabilitation beside London Bridge. He was overpowered by bystanders as cops shot him dead. The ISIS has said Khan belonged to them. Police said he was part of a group the English city of Stoke which forged close links with terrorists from London and the Welsh capital Cardiff and wanted to place a bomb in a toilet at the London Stock Exchange. He was also planning setting up a camp to train militants and to carry out attacks in Kashmir. He actually was supposed to visit the PaK in 2010 along with Nazam Hussain but was arrested. Hussain has been arrested.

Meanwhile, Dr Neeraj Patil, a Labour leader and former Mayor of the London Borough of Lambeth, has expressed deep concern over the endorsement of the party by JKLF in the December 12, General Election and sought immediate remedial measures. He has written a letter to Labour Party General Secretary Jennie Formby, detailing JKLF’s past.

SILICON VALLEY

People using WhatsApp were shocked last week when the communication and social platform witnessed a mass-exit of Kashmiris. There were groups in which only admins survived as the members literally evaporated. India is WhatsApp’s major market as almost 40 crore people use this application. The exiting of Kashmiris was felt everywhere and people started posting about the trend. “We haven’t used our family group chat since Aug. 5, but today it was heart-wrenching and mildly tear-jerking to see all my people ‘leave’ our group,” a Twitter user called Soprich said. “Those who still have access to their family’s idiosyncrasies should consider themselves privileged.”

It was after a lot of debate that the Facebook responded saying the trend was auto-exit. “To maintain security and limit data retention, WhatsApp accounts generally expire after 120 days of inactivity,” the spokesperson was quoted writing. “When that happens, those accounts automatically exit their WhatsApp groups. People will need to be re-added to groups upon regaining access to the Internet and joining WhatsApp again.” Though the WhatsApp gave no idea of the numbers involved in the mass auto-exit, experts estimate the number at more than 1.5 million.

The users will face the crisis for a long time. Auto deletion does not only mean loss of a vital method of communication alone, it also means potentially erasing photos, videos, and cherished memories of many years. Individuals apart, the move has undone the efforts of institutions and business who worked over the years to create these groups. The worst affected will be the charity groups that would link with donors and beneficiaries using the platform.

STOCKHOLM

A week after the Sweden sounded concerned over Kashmir in anticipation of the King’s India visit; Delhi has explained its position. India foreign minister S Jaishankar has met his Swedish counterpart Ann Linde, accompanying Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, is reported to have told him about the efforts being underway to normalize the situation. He was given readout about Delhi’s Kashmir plans post abrogation of special status. Jaishanker emphasized over the cross-border terrorism.

Days before the royal visit, Linde had issued a strong statement highlighting Sweden’s commitment to human rights. “The situation in Kashmir is worrying and the government is closely following developments,” she had said in a statement, calling for the lifting of restrictions. “We emphasise the importance of respect for human rights, that an escalation of the situation in Kashmir is avoided and that a long-term political solution to the situation must involve Kashmir’s inhabitants.”

A vocal voice on human rights within the EU fold, Linde followed Germany and Finland had called for a “dialogue between India and Pakistan is crucial”, asserting, “Together with the EU, Sweden is closely following the changes that have taken place in Jammu & Kashmir’s constitutional status and notes information that has emerged about how the development affects the situation for human rights.” Interestingly, Linde’s predecessor Margot Wallstrom had expressed almost similar concerns on August 20.

Terming the ongoing situation in Kashmir as a humanitarian, Sweden’s Ambassador in India Klas Molin told The Hindu that Stockholm was “fully aligned with the European Union” and even held a special hearing on the situation in Kashmir recently. “The Kashmir issue is a long-standing one,” the newspaper quoted him saying. “We see it as emanating from a bilateral dispute and thus has to be resolved through dialogue between India and Pakistan. That is the EU’s position. The other main tenet is that Kashmiris should have a say in their own future.”

The royal couple during their visit met President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They visited Mumbai and Uttrakhand. The two countries signed three MoUs and agreements for cooperation in the fields of polar science and maritime sphere after talks between Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf and President Ram Nath Kovind. Separately, the Swedish King and Prime Minister chaired the India-Sweden High-Level Policy Dialogue on Innovation Policy, during which the two sides emphasised the role of collaborative tech-innovation leadership of the two countries in meeting the challenges of the future.

In Mumbai, after meeting the governor and the Chief Minister, the King talked to some select reporters. “We can say we have people from Sweden, trying to (be) as observers in these areas in Kashmir for many many years. In that sense, we are trying to be an observer if possible,” the King was quoted saying. Asked if any offer for mediation by Sweden to resolve the Kashmir dispute was discussed when he met the Indian leadership in Delhi, he declined to answer, citing a policy of not commenting on political issues.

Human rights apart, Sweden is also trying to sell Gripen, its indigenous warplanes to IAF. If approved, it can sell 114 fighter jets for US $15 billion. Interestingly, Micael Johansson, president of the SAAB, the Gripen-maker company, was part of the royal entourage. The company is willing to have a JV with Adani Group if Delhi approves the deal and make the fighter within India. But Sweden’s warplanes competitors are America’s Lockheed Martin and Boeing. India and Sweden had a bilateral trade turnover of $3.37 billion in 2018 and cumulative investments of about $2.5 billion since 2000.

LINE OF CONTROL

The soldiers are caught between inclement weather and the cross-LoC shelling. After 10 soldiers were swept away by avalanches over the Siachen glacier peaks in two separate incidents this winter, two fresh avalanches reported from north Kashmir have killed four more soldiers. In Tangdar, three soldiers were killed and one was rescued alive when Eagle Post was hit by an avalanche. In Dawar belt of Gurez, a foot patrol was caught in an avalanche near Amar Post resulting to the death of one soldier as his colleague was rescued.

At the same time, however, the rival sides are shelling each other’s positions. In Poonch’s Shahpur belt, two civilians – Gulnaz Akhtar, 34, and Shoib Ahmad, 16, were killed and nine others were injured in Pakistani shelling. Meanwhile, a PaK resident was arrested in Rajouri’s Nowshehra sector. He was identified as Tariq Mahmood, a resident of Chai Nalla (Samahani) in Bhimber district.

DELHI

Wasim Sadiq Nargal’s appointment as a judge in the Jammu & Kashmir High Court was also cleared by the Supreme Court collegium on August 24, 2017, but is awaiting clearance from the central government. Nargal was one of the five nominees, including four lawyers and a district and sessions judge. The Supreme Court collegium, then comprising former Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justice Jasti Chelameswar and Justice Ranjan Gogoi, cleared three lawyers — Nargal, Nazir Ahmed Beig and Sindhu Sharma, besides former district and sessions judge Rashid Ali Dar. On August 3, 2018, the Narendra Modi government issued warrants of appointment for Sindhu Sharma and Rashid Ali Dar, leaving out Wasim Sadiq Nargal and Nazir Ahmed Beig.

The central government finally returned the files of Nargal and Beig’s for “reconsideration”. On January 16, 2019, the Supreme Court collegium, headed by then CJI Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices AK Sikri and SA Bobde, “recalled” its recommendation to elevate Beig on the basis of “the material placed in the file”. In Nargal’s case, it asked the government to “furnish specific information in detail on the basis of which the proposal for elevation… has been referred back for reconsideration”. Ten months later, the collegium is yet to receive any information from the Modi government as to why it wanted Nargal’s elevation reconsidered.

On October 15, the collegium cleared names of two more advocates for elevation to the J&K High Court. The situation has impacted the functioning of the High Court in Jammu and Kashmir that has only nine judges against the sanctioned strength of 17.

Interestingly, as two members of the panel are still awaiting government clearance, Dar has retired after putting in more than a year of service.

DELHI

After being bailed out after 106 days, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, who was former Finance and Home Minister, has drawn parallels between his detention and the Kashmir lockdown. “As I breathed the air of freedom last night, my first prayers were for the 75 lakh people of the Kashmir valley who have been denied their basic freedoms since August 4,” Chidambaram said. “I am particularly concerned about the political leaders who have been detained without charges.” In Kashmir context, he used the word “Freedom” frequently. In his opening statement, Chidambaram said: “Freedom is indivisible: if we must preserve our freedom, we must fight for their freedom.” He said he would be ready to go and visit the Valley “if the government allowed him to do so”.

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