Briefing (February 16-22, 2020)

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SRINAGAR

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

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

In the just concluded 2-day visit of 25 Delhi based foreign envoys including from the European Union, if ever there would have a title for the man of the match, the Afghan ambassador, Tahir Qadiry would have bagged it. It was him who made this visit different from the earlier two such exercises, which are part of Delhi’s outreach programme.

Every other thing was routine: envoys landing at Srinagar to an impressive welcome, being driven in a huge cavalcade, meet the same old audience, getting for the signature Shikara ride into the Dal lake and having the routine briefings about the improvement in situation. The army top brass that met the delegation for almost an hour before they flew to Jammu told them about the fall in militant violence by 45 percent after the special status was withdrawn and the state was downgraded into two Union Territories.

In Jammu, they met various delegations from Kashmiri Pandits, West Pakistan refugees and other civil society members. Besides, they also had a meeting with Geeta Mital, the Chief Justice of the High Court.

There was a complete information vacuum, part of which was filled by Qadiry. A former journalist who could resist the temptation of not telling anything to a market that was dying of news hunger, Qadiry wrote a series of tweets, uploading pictures and praising the beauty of Kashmir.

This led to two immediate responses. The first was quick when the people started reacting to him asking which VPN was he using in Kashmir that is living behind a firewall. Some of the responses virtually roasted him. On the flip side of it, however, he won many friends who will be in touch with him for a very long time.

KISHTWAR

Unprecedented, Kishtwar’s Bahadat village may not forget this tragedy for generations. Schoolteacher Pawan Kumar and his wife Rekha Devi were carrying their 3-months old infant who died in Jammu hospital. Rushing home in a Maruti car (JK07-2745), they were accompanied by their three relatives. Barely a kilometer ahead of Drabshalla, the driver lost control near Pani Nullah and the car plunged into the Chenab. All the five died instantly. It took quite an effort to retrieve the corpses.

GOA

In a way, Congress is saying that Satya Pal Malik did not come to Panaji alone after his brief disruptive governorship in Kashmir. He returned with many other things including restrictions with section 144. After the UT administration invoked restrictions under section 144 in the North Goa district for a period of 60 days, Congress spokesperson Trajano D’Mello said: “So, is the government trying to say that the situation in Goa is as bad as the situation in Kashmir?” Chief Minister Pramod Sawant termed it a routine. The restriction orders were issued ahead of a tenant verification drive, citing inputs of a terror alert along the Western coast of India. D’Mello said if the threat is real, the casinos must close first because they are vulnerable.

JAMMU

It was a tragedy that could have been averted had the planners taken care of their responsibilities – a band sawmill was permitted on the ground floor of a three-storey building that was home to many workers. As the building in the TalabTilo caught fire, it collapsed. Three firefighters were killed in the tragedy as two survived with injuries while rescuing the civilians trapped in the building. Before they were killed all the four civilians were rescued.

SKIMS reported 72 H1N1 cases since September 2019. Right now 16 are being treated including two who are pretty critical.

SRINAGAR

Two journalists – Naseer Ganie and Haroon Nabi were summoned and questioned by police for carrying the strike call issued by banned JKLF on February 9 and 11, on the anniversaries of the hanging of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Butt. Police told them they were being investigated in a case FIR registered against the outfit for the call. Journalists reacted to the summoning and the Kashmir Press Club issued a detailed statement highlighting the instances of harassment since August 5. With its top leader Yasin Malik in jail, the outfit is being investigated for 37 cases. “The harassment and questioning of journalists in Kashmir on flimsy grounds by the J&K Police for their work is, in fact, a damning verdict on the appalling condition in which the media is operating,” the Club said, adding more than six Kashmiri journalists, including those from The HinduThe Indian ExpressEconomic Times, were questioned so far.

JAMMU

After a series of instances involving people being duped by criminals through Facebook, the police have caught two and formally charge-sheeted them. Identified as Raj Kumar, alias Rajan, a resident of Trilokpuri, Delhi (originally from Ginora village of Bulandshehar in UP) and Rajesh Kumar, alias Sonu, alias Champak, alias Anurag Mittal, police said they were part of Delhi based cartel of IT criminals who duped gullible people of millions. The Crime Branch sleuths have detected various fake bank accounts with transactions worth crores of rupees and most of the money has come through fraud. Police were investigating a complaint involving fraud of Rs 82, 05,883. The modus operandi included befriending the victim on FB and luring him into a business deal. Quick complaint by the Jammu resident led to speedy investigations that eventually led to their arrest from Delhi.

WASHINGTON

President Donald Trump is expected to have a historic welcome later this month when he will land in Ahmadabad. He will drive 10-kms to reach world’s largest stadium that he will also inaugurate, and later speak to nearly  110 thousand audience. During his 2-day visit, strategic experts expect, the US will try wrapping up a trade deal that will reduce its trade deficit and sign a series of defense deals. It may take time for purchasing the US $ 1.86 billion Integrated Air Defence Weapon System but reports said the two leaders may announce the deal for 30 US drones. There is also a possibility of a US $2.6-million military helicopter deal. Since 2007, India has made the US $17 billion defense purchases from the US surpassing Russian sales to Delhi. Officials in Delhi indicate India will protect its price caps on medical implants and may not permit American dairy products derived from mammals feeding on non-veg food.

Will Kashmir be on the table? Nobody knows. Ahead of the visit, four top US senators including Lindsey Graham, considered closer to Trump, have written to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, expressing concern about the internet curbs in Kashmir and continued detention of political leadership. The letter goes on to demand an assessment by the US government within 30 days of “the number of individuals detained by the Indian government for political purposes due to India’s revocation of Article 370”.

Trump and Melenia are excited over the trip. Trump talked in detail on the upcoming visit last week.

BENGALURU

Arshad Mushtaq, a Kashmiri theatre director, and cultural activist was in Bengaluru last week where he staged his two plays, Fading Memoirs and Bea Chus Shahid (I am the Witness).  Bea Chus Shahid, a play in Kashmiri language, running from the last 10 years, revolves around the journey of an elderly man who carries letters and comes in contact with a young cricket player. The story takes a turn on how the younger individual goes through the letters and further goes on to shoulder the responsibility of carrying the messages to which he is witness to. While as the English play, Fading Memoirs, the play depicts poetic expressions from the works of acclaimed poets such as Shaikh Ul Alam, T S Eliot, Rasa Javidhani, Mehmud Darvaish, Agha Shahid Ali and reflects the sensibilities that emanate from society. Its punchline is that ‘memory is a responsibility’.

CHANDIGARH

A woman army officer, of the rank of Major, was once accused of resorting to a “controversial intelligence operation” in Assam that led to an internal clash between two former Army chiefs – Gen VK Singh and Gen Dalbir Singh. This was when V K Singh headed the army and Dalbir headed a Northeast corps. Last week, The Tribune reported, the officer was dismissed from the service. In fact, the newspaper reported two Major rank officers were dismissed. One Major, a male, was cashiered from service and awarded three-month rigorous imprisonment.

“The two officers were tried by separate military courts under Section 45 of the Army Act that pertains to conduct unbecoming that of an officer. The verdicts are subject to confirmation by the courts’ convening authority,” the newspaper reported. “Court-martial proceedings were initiated against them after the majors sent a complaint to the Chief of the Army along with some videos and photographs of the duo as evidence.”The lady officer was posted with the Northern Command Counter Intelligence Unit and the other officer was serving the Special Forces in Jammu and Kashmir. It is where the two came to know each other.

DELHI

The 37 central ministers, who literally created a traffic jam in Jammu, have drafted lengthy reports of what they saw and heard during their brief visits. These reports have been submitted to the PMO with the recommendations. The ministers had been given a form to be filled up after the visit to gather details and make an honest assessment of developmental activities. Reports appearing in the media said that the ministers have made several suggestions which will be analyzed by the competent team. Unlike Jammu where almost all the districts were touched, the central ministers left South Kashmir untouched.

UT administration has decided to infuse capital of Rs 500 crore in Jammu and Kashmir Bank by the end of the current fiscal

LAHORE

In a development that Delhi skipped commenting upon, Islamabad has jailed Lashkar-e-Toiba founder Hafiz Saeed for five and a half years jail each in two separate cases of terror financing. The punishment will go concurrently in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail, where he is being held since July last. The court, Pakistani media reported found Hafiz guilty of being part of a terrorist outfit and for owning illegal property. The verdict came days ahead of world financial watchdog, Financial Action Task Force (FATF), meeting where Pakistan faces a low score on the terror financing front. It is in FATF’s Grey List and its downgrade can prevent Islamabad from accessing multilateral lending. Charges against Hafiz, a UN-recognized terrorist, were leveled in July 2019. Delhi has blamed the LeT for the 26/11 Mumbai attack in which 160 people were killed. He has denied the charges. Earlier, the US had offered a reward of US $10 million for information leading to Hafiz’s conviction. Hafiz is facing 23 FIRs involving terror financing and money laundering registered by Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) in Lahore, Gujranwala, and Multan. LeT and its patron group the Jamat-ud-Dawah (JuD) runs a series of charities. Dawn, Pakistan’s respected newspaper reported that the JuD earned over the US $1.2 million from the sale of hides of sacrificial animals in 2009 alone.

CHENNAI

Investment might wait but not faith. The Jammu & Kashmir administration, according to The Hindu has agreed in principle to allot 100-acre land along the Jammu-Katra highway to the Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams for constructing a replica of the Tirumala temple. V Vijaya Sai Reddy who led the TTD Board delegation told the newspaper that they will complete the construction of the temple along with a Vedic School, a marriage hall and a hospital in two years on either of the two sites currently under discussion. One site is at Dhummi and another at Majin.

SRINAGAR

The Indian Express reported that two judges of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court responded differently in their observations about the much-maligned Public Safety Act. “Justice Sanjeev Kumar, while scrutinizing the detention orders which he subsequently quashed, said though preventive detention involves the detaining of a person without trial in order to prevent him from committing certain types of offenses, such “detention cannot be made a substitute for the ordinary law and absolve the investigating authorities,” the newspaper reported.

Two days later, Justice Tashi Rabstan made different observations. “…a High Court does not sit in appeal over the decision of the detaining authority and cannot substitute its own opinion over that of the detaining authority; that the courts do not even go into the question whether the facts mentioned in grounds of detention are correct or false; and that the High Court “cannot interfere on the ground that in view of the fact that times have changed, further detention would be unjustified”.

JAMMU

Three youngmen from Jammu became Guinness Book of World Record Holders in the field of music and singing. Percussionist Karan Malhotra, guitarist Dheeraj Matoo, and vocalist Subodh Kumar joined the largest Indian band of musicians and singers in Mumbai to render their expertise with 1,046 musicians and singers drawn from the world over for the web series, The Forgotten Army- Azaadi Ke Liye. Directed by Kabir Khan, it is an Amazon Prime Video. Music director Pritam Chakraborty led the event. Named Live 1,000 Experience got the honors for being the ‘Largest cinematic music band on earth’. Karan Malhotra is a Moti Bazar resident who has been living in Mumbai for five years and worked in Singapore for two years. Dheeraj Matoo, who lives in New Plot was the core guitarist for 300 guitarists.

LADAKH

West Bengal model and actress Sayantani Guhathakurta is planning for a Kashmir holiday with a close friend. The venue is tentative. She told newspapers she may go to Ladakh if the political unrest interrupts her visit.

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