Briefing (December 15-21, 2019)

MUMBAI

For their marriage, actors Alia Bhat and Ranbir Kapoor are coming to Kashmir, Bollywood grapevine suggests. It may take place in 2020. Alia wants to have the marriage in Kashmir because of her emotional-connect with the valley. Alia’s mother, Soni Razdan is a Kashmiri Pandit who was born to a German woman, and Narendra Nath Razdan, also a Kashmiri Pandit. Besides, Alia shot her award-winning movie Raazi with Meghna Gulzar in 2017, in Kashmir.

84 attempts of infiltration were reported from the LoC since August and MHA says 59 militants might have sneaked in

MADHOPUR

For the first time in last 30 years, December 10, the International Human Rights Day witnessed not a single activity. However, there were many outstation events. The police stopped at the erstwhile state’s Pathankot border a delegation of Dal Khalsa and Shiromani Akali Dal from entering the state citing law and order problems. Planning to observe International Human Rights Day in Jammu and Kashmir, nearly 200 Panthic activists of the two parties were flagged off for the march from Amritsar by Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) president Simranjit Singh Mann. Before leaving the spot, they read a statement specifically mentioning the closure of Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid for last 18 consecutive weeks. In Mumbai, around 25 non-profit organisations and the Communist Party of India protested against alleged human rights violation in Kashmir outside the iconic Churchgate railway station in Mumbai. They were from NGOs – Friends of Democracy, Mumbai Sarvodaya Mandal, and Samvidhaan Jagar Committee. They demanded release of former Chief Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir, restoration of internet and investigation into the crisis of Kashmir.

In Delhi, as The Wire reported, more than 500 activists from 30 countries signed a statement condemning the continued clampdown in Kashmir after August 5. “More than 125 days later, many are still being held without charges or trial, under administrative detention laws such as the Public Safety Act, 1978 while the grounds of detention and whereabouts of a large number, including children as young as ten, remains unknown. An unknown number of people have been moved to prisons outside the state of Jammu & Kashmir,” the website quoted the statement saying. The signatories included individual women and women’s organisations from South Asian nations to the US, Iran to Indonesia, Afghanistan to Argentina, Europe to Mexico, Israel, Palestine, Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa.

AGRA

Dr Mubeen Shah, the Kashmiri businessman, whose name figured in one of the US Congress hearings, was finally released by the government on December 6. A former president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who also headed the Jammu and Kashmir Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry for a two year term, was arrested by the police under J&K Public Safety Act and was detained in Agra Jail. He was unwell. His wife had moved the Supreme Court after they met him in jail in September. Initially, the government said he was “temporarily released” but later the government told the court that they have revoked his detention orders permanently. It was only after the government response that a three-judge Bench comprising Justice NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy, and BR Gavai allowed Asifa Mubeen to withdraw her petition challenging the detention.

Dr Shah, one of the four sons of Kashmir’s prominent businessman, Ali Shah of the Alson Motors fame, has most of his business off shore, in Malaysia and USA. At the time of his arrest, Dr Shah was preparing for a surgical intervention as he was suffering from nephrological and cardiac problems. Family sources said Dr Shah is in jail and meeting his doctors regularly. They said he has lost almost 20 kgs of weight. Shah along with other business leaders M Yasin Khan, Shakeel Qalander was arrested on August 4. He is perhaps the only high profile detained leaders who was set free. Earlier, in October, Indian American lawmaker Pramila Jayapal had raised Shah’s detention with the State department representative Assistant Secretary Alice Wells, who had said the US government has “explicitly raised” Shah’s case with India.

DELHI

EU delegation enjoying a boat ride in Dal Lake Srinagar. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

European Union’s Ambassador to India Ugo Astuto has said the EU was concerned over restrictions on “fundamental freedom” of people in Kashmir and called for steps like restoration of communication network and essential services to bring back normalcy in the Valley. He has also called on Pakistan to take action against terror groups operating from its soil, by choking their financial support, and ensuring compliance of steps recommended by anti-terror watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF). He reiterated the EU position that India and Pakistan should resolve all issues through dialogue. “Our position has not changed since August. We have stressed on a dialogue between India and Pakistan through diplomatic channels,” Astuto was quoted saying. The diplomat also clarified that the controversial visit by the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to Kashmir in October was not “an expression of EU’s policy decision”.

JAMMU

It took Press Council of India more than 125 days to send its 3-member ‘fact finding team’ to Jammu and Kashmir. When they finally reached Jammu, the weather gods gave them a chance to return home without visiting Kashmir. In Jammu, however, they had detailed interactions with journalists in Jammu and the government functionaries. The team comprised Balwinder Singh, Kamal Nain Narang and Raza Hussain Rizvi. The Jammu journalists, according to The Daily Excelsior told the team that continued suspension of mobile internet service in Jammu since August 5 has affected smooth flow of information. They suggested checking the mushroom growth of “social media channels and self styled journalists”. Director Information has also made a detailed presentation regarding overall functioning of the DIPR to the visiting team.

FRANKFURT

A German court has convicted an Indian origin German couple – Manmohan S, 50, and his wife Kanwal Jit K, 51, who were charged of spying for RAW, an Indian external intelligence gatherer, in March. They were living in Moenchengladbach. Manmohan was handed one-and-a-half-year suspended jail sentence for illegal espionage activities and his wife Kanwal Jit received a fine equivalent to 180 days of income for aiding and abetting such activities. On top of the suspended sentence, S was also ordered to pay 1,500 Euros to a charitable institution. The couple now have a week to appeal the decision.

The husband’s espionage activities are said to have begun in January 2015, with his wife joining him in collecting intelligence from July 2017. The couple are reported to have received €7,200 ($7,974) from RAW for their services. They confessed to the court that they gathered and passed information about Sikh and Kashmiri Hurriyat leaders. Almost 20,000 Sikhs live in Germany. “The accused reported on the internal affairs of the Sikh temples in Cologne and Frankfurt, as well as on protest events in the Sikh community,” the prosecution told the court.

Espionage is a serious offence in Germany and if convicted, the couple could reportedly face up to ten years in jail. Earlier in 2016, German police arrested a 58-year-old German official for allegedly accessing database and passing information about suspected ‘Sikh extremists’ to Delhi. This, he did, for his Indian handler identified as TSP. He is still in prison.

BANDIPORA

Rs 30 lakh is the amount that High Court wants NHPC and Hindustan Construction Corporation (HCC) to consider paying to Atif Irshad, a six year old boy from Bandipore, who received an electric shock from the 33,000 KV transmission line near his home. The line passing through residential areas was touched by the boy with an iron curtain rod from his third floor window as it is only 3 ft high. It burnt his hands and feet and doctors have declared him 90 percent disabled. His toes have been amputated. High tension power transmission lines usually pass through uninhabited areas.

SRINAGAR

High Court , Srinagar - KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

In a judgement that could prevent ruining of hundreds of careers, the High Court has asked the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to consider recognising the medical degree of a Kashmiri female who pursued her MBBS from a college in Pakistan administered Kashmir. Justice Sanjeev Kumar observed that Hadiya Chisti, the medical student, enrolled herself in the college only after the MEA granted her permission. Hadiya is a resident of Nowgam (Srinagar) who joined Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Medical College in Mirpur in 2012. In 2017, in anticipation of the completion of her course, she applied with the ministry for issuance of an eligibility certificate for the recognition of her degree. MEA took up the issue with its High Commission at Islamabad for verification. On July 6, 2017, the Pakistan foreign ministry told the Indian High Commission that the degree awarded to Chisti by the college was a recognised qualification. After completing her yearlong internship in a Lahore medical college, Hadiya returned home. When the National Board of Examination disallowed her to take the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination, she approached the High Court on October 26, 2018, which passed an interim direction to the government to allow her to take the exam. She qualified her examination scoring 156 of 300 points. Authorities, however, withheld her registration leading the family to court again. Observing that the case poses a “unique problem” calling for a “unique resolution”, Justice Kumar observed that Chisti has obtained her degree from a college located within the territory of India. “There should be no dispute that the area known as PoK, where the medical college is situated is part of India though it is on the other side of the LoC and is under the occupation and administrative control of Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” the court observed. “If that be the admitted position, a medical institution operating in the area cannot be expected to seek any recognition from the Medical Council of India (MCI).” The court said that the MCI does not exercise de-facto control and powers over PoK, though it may claim to have territorial jurisdiction extending to that area de-jure. The court asked the Home Ministry to issue an advisory so that people would study in institutions which are recognised by the MCI.

JAMMU

A day after the High Court sought replacement of the Jammu and Kashmir Police by the central forces and directed the judicial infrastructure to be declared a high security set-up; notices have gone to four members of the Jammu Bar Association for spearheading the 40-day long agitation asking them why criminal proceedings cannot be initiated against them. The lawyers are on protest against setting up of a separate land registry system under the revenue department, taking the activity away from the judicial set-up for the first times after 1947. The High Court later clubbed the agitation with the appearance of a poster on a wall in the Kashmir wing of the High Court and made a series of directions on the security of the judicial infrastructure. In a 5-page order the High Court said some recent events have shown police’s “inability” to “ensure discipline and security which must be maintained in all judicial precincts”. The court accused the police of “reluctance to engage with (protesting) lawyers” in Jammu. “To the utter chagrin and dismay, the local police is either reluctant to engage with lawyers or is not able to control the situation,” the order reads, directing the UT, to consider deployment of central forces for security. Meanwhile the Jammu Bar Association has called off its strike.

WASHINGTON

Briefing - Kashmir - modi-and-trump

As the going gets tough, the Ministry of External Affairs has hired a new lobbying firm Cornerstone Government Affairs to manage its public relations at the Capitol Hall. The firm has strong links to the Democratic Party. For the last two years Delhi solely relied on a Republican firm, BGR Group, after the Podesta Group, a prestigious lobbying firm close to the Democratic establishment, disbanded in 2017. It is expected that the Cornerstone-BGR combination will get Delhi out of diplomatic troubles in world’s most powerful democracy.

The latest from the Capitol Hall is that the US House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Asia Subcommittee has held a classified hearing on the situation in Kashmir. Alice Wells, a South Asia diplomat, and intelligence officials were expected to participate in the briefing that Sherman organised as the Chair of the Subcommittee. The hearing was organised after there were requests for a classified hearing to discuss issues that Ms Wells could not discuss in public during the October 22 hearing, a congressional aide told The Hindu. The hearing was sought by Democratic Congresswoman from Virginia, Abigail Spanberger, a former intelligence officer turned politician.

Earlier, Indian-American Democrat Congress Representative Pramila Jayapal along with Republican lawmaker Steve Watkins sponsored a bipartisan resolution (745) in the House “…urges the Government of India to lift the remaining restrictions on communication and to restore internet access across all of Jammu and Kashmir as swiftly as possible; swiftly release arbitrarily detained people in Jammu and Kashmir; refrain from conditioning the release of detained people on their willingness to sign bonds prohibiting any political activities and speeches; allow international human rights observers and journalists to access Jammu and Kashmir and operate freely throughout India, without threats, and condemn at the highest levels, all religiously motivated violence, including that violence which targets against religious minorities.”

Coming after two US Congress hearings on Jammu and Kashmir, her resolution was submitted in wake of fierce opposition by the Indian diaspora.

“Soon after her announcement on the proposed resolution, the Indian American community approached her against it. The community reached out to her in large numbers over phone calls to her office, wrote emails and met in person. In October, about 80 community members called on Jayapal’s office urging her to restrain from negatively viewing the situation in Kashmir,” PTI reported from the US. “On October 26, Indian-Americans held a Silent March in front of her Seattle office to express solidarity with Kashmiri Hindus. Her office received thousands of emails and letters from Indian-Americans against her move to introduce the resolution on Kashmir. To express their resentment, the community voted en masse against a candidate supported by Jayapal in a local election in Seattle, ensuring the candidate’s defeat.”

A news report said she received 25000 e-mail, requesting her against the resolution. Even India’s ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla, along with his deputy Amit Kumar and Indian Consul General in San Francisco Sanjay Panda met her to explain India’s position on Kashmir. However, her views on Kashmir remained unchanged.

To add to the diplomatic crisis, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted that it was a ‘shame’ that Parliament was yet to discuss the situation in Kashmir while two US moved a bipartisan resolution in the House.

The resolution is hanging in balance. For the resolution to be adopted by the House, it requires 218 votes in the 435-member chamber. Jayapal belongs to the progressive caucus of the Democratic Party along with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, and the group is most vocal against the abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent situation in Kashmir.

“I have fought to strengthen the special US-India relationship, which is why I‘m deeply concerned. Detaining people without charge, severely limiting communications, & blocking neutral third-parties from visiting the region is harmful to our close, critical bilateral relationship (sic),” Jayapal tweeted after she introduced the resolution.

More recently, in wake of the Citizenship [Amendment] Bill (CAB), even the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) suggested the Washington should consider sanctioning Home Minister Amit Shah.

“A Congressional aide laughed out loud when asked to comment on the USCIRF’s demand vis-à-vis Shah,” Seema Sirohi wrote in The Quint. “But there’s no denying that the narrative of a democratic India preserving its diversity against heavy odds is tarnished somewhat, as perception gains that the Modi government is ‘targeting’ Muslims in different ways to make them ‘lesser’ citizens.” Observing that “India is increasingly on the radar of the international community and not for good reasons,” Sirohi noted that criticism of Modi’s controversial domestic agenda is growing both in the United States and Europe. “To say the anti-India narrative is explicitly based on an inherent western bias would be folly, when the ground situation is for all to judge.”

The concern is mounting as the liberals in US Congress are opposing new India. “It has been nearly 20 years since a political resolution against India was tabled on Capitol Hill,” Strategic Analyst, KP Nayar wrote in The Tribune. “For a quarter century, India’s biggest diplomatic investments in America have been in Capitol Hill, on a scale much bigger than what successive Prime Ministers invested in the White House. And these investments, which today lie in waste, never failed to pay handsome dividends.”

DELHI

As North East erupted, the Home Ministry has ordered de-induction of 12 companies of paramilitary forces in Kashmir to join the law and order duties in Assam. Earlier, 40 companies had moved out for the first time after August 5. Meanwhile, Delhi based The Hindustan Times reported that an internal assessment by CRPF has suggested that a prolonged lockdown in Kashmir may give troublemakers a fresh chance “to start a new wave of protests and armed struggle”. The assessment report has recorded its concern over its troops staying in temporary camps makes them “vulnerableto attacks, besides the extended deployment of so many troops might make them “complacent”.

In run-up to August 5, almost seventy additional battalions (approximately 75,000 troopers) joined 61 battalions of CRPF in Kashmir. “By now, it seems clear that these troops are going to stay for a longer duration, their ad-hoc camps and convoy movements will remain vulnerable. Joint security flush out operations are a must for now to keep the militants away from striking distance, and generation of quality intelligence inputs are very important which seem to have virtually dried up post August 5,” the newspaper quoted the CRPF analysis saying. It added that “employment of human intelligence and source creation is the need of the hour to assess the prevailing public sentiments and understanding the evolving security dynamics.”

Of 57000 acres of land identified for creating industrial estates, 15000 are in Kashmir

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