Briefing (January 19-25, 2020)

UNITED NATIONS

In yet another closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council (UNSC), China requested deliberations on the Kashmir issue. Though Vietnam, the UNSC President for January, allowed the issue to be brought up by China, other members blocked the initiative. Media reports said US and France reiterated that the Kashmir issue has to be discussed bilaterally.

This was for the third time that Pakistan’s all weather ally, wanted Kashmir in UNSC. Kashmir was first time discussed on August 16, 11 days after Article 370 was binned, but the members did not issue a statement. In December, France, US, UK and Russia created a situation that Beijing withdrew its request about Kashmir discussion.

Most of the 14 members were supportive of the US assertion that Kashmir is a bilateral issue. “UNSC discussed Kashmir in closed consultations,” Russian envoy Dmitry Polyanskiy said in a tweet. “Russia firmly stands for the normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan. We hope that differences between them will be settled through bilateral efforts based on the 1972 Simla Agreement and the 1999 Lahore Declaration.” PTI quoted an unnamed European envoy saying the discussions on Kashmir was “low key”.

“We had a meeting on Jammu and Kashmir. And I’m sure you all know that Foreign Minister of Pakistan wrote letters to the Security Council asking the Security Council to pay attention to the current situation in Jammu and Kashmir,” Chinese UN ambassador Zhang Jun was quoted saying after the close door meeting. “The issue of India and Pakistan has always been on the agenda of the Security Council and today we have also seen some tensions, so the Security Council had a briefing and heard at the briefing from the Secretariat concerning the current situation on the ground. Members exchanged views on that”.

Chinese initiative came days after Delhi flew 15 foreign envoys including the US ambassador to Jammu and Kashmir on a guided tour. Alice Wells, the acting Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia in US foreign office said, described the visit an “important step” and said she was “closely following” the visit of the envoys to Kashmir. She added: “We remain concerned by detention of political leaders and residents and Internet restrictions. We look forward to a return to normalcy.” Wells is flying to India next week.

While France has been supportive of India’s stand in UN, it has also raked up Kashmir during the telephonic talk between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron. “In the spirit of trust and frankness that characterises their relations, the French President and the Indian PM discussed the situation in the region of Kashmir, which France continues to follow closely,” the Elysee Palace statement read.

Interestingly, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi was in New York, when the meeting took place. He had met UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and briefed him on Kashmir. South Block sources said the raking up of Kashmir was meant to set his stage.

KASHMIR

The wet snowfall triggered a sort of disaster in high altitude areas straddling the Line of Control. While 11 persons including six soldiers were killed in Jammu and Kashmir, more than 77 are reported dead on the other side of the political divide where avalanches hit the habitations on the foothills in Neelum valley. In Ladakh, the UT administration had to fly several IAF sorties to rescue 27 of almost 100 Chadder trekkers – a winter adventure in which the people trek on the frozen Zanskar river. The Srinagar highway is still blocked as more than 4000 trucks are stranded.

On the other side of the LoC, Neelum Valley, which abuts a river that divides the Pakistani and Indian portions of Kashmir, witnessed the worst. The New York Times quoted Abdul Rahman Sheikh, 62, saying that he has one family member seriously injured and eight other family members frozen to death. “I have eight dead bodies lying in the open,” he told the newspaper. “If I send her to the hospital, who will look after her there? And if I go along with her, who will bury the eight bodies?” On the very first day, two villages had 41 burials. The toll eventually crossed 77. Samina Bibi, a 12 year old girl was rescued after 18 hours, from an avalanche that killed her brother and sister.

The avalanches had put both the armies on alert. Operating in their respective areas, they jumped into rescue and relief and even took the sick to hospitals. In Srinagar, Chinar Corps put up a video on social media showing the heroics of its men who rescued Tariq Iqbal and Zahoor Ahmed Khan, residents of Lacchipura who were buried under an avalanche the road linking Lachhipura and Bijhama (Uri).

LONDON

Natasha Kaul, the UK based Kashmiri author and academic has written a new novel, Future Tense. “This is a novel that was birthed post 2016 uprising and it will be read post a profound loss of Kashmiri autonomy in 2019,” Kaul was quoted saying by The New Indian Express. “It has been a work born of love and sacrifice, and I hope that you who read this will keep the stories of Kashmiris alive in your head and heart.” The characters in Future Tense, according to author have inherited many tragedies and contradictions that belong to Kashmir. Harper Collins has published the novel. Author Madhuri Vijay, meanwhile, has won the coveted Crossword Book Award for her debut novel on Kashmir, The Far Field.

CHANDIGARH

They are from two different places – Mohammad Latief Bhat, 40, is from Kashmir and Ajit Kumar Shukla, 40, from Bihar. They did not know each other till both of them were admitted to the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre (PRC) in Phase 6, Mohali. They do not share the same story but a strong bond too. Both of them were posted in Rajouri. Bhat a sepoy in the JAK Light Infantry Regiment and Shukla, an ex-gunner with 104 Army Air Defence. Bhat suffered grievous spine injuries on August 3, 2001, when his vehicle, escorting an army convoy was hit by a mortar shell, sending it plunging down a 250-feet deep gorge. Around four years later, Shukla suffered spinal injuries after two bullets fired by militants during an encounter in Rajouri district hit the left side of his abdomen on February 25, 2005.  They were shifted to the Army Hospital in Udhampur and referred to the Western Command Hospital in Chandimandir from there. Bhat joined the PRC in March 2003 and Shukla in March 2006. Now both of them are fast friends. They play wheelchair basketball games together. They have represented India in various international wheelchair basketball tournaments in Indonesia, Nepal, Lebanon and Tokyo. Now friends have more similarities: Both were posted in Rajouri, have married for love, have a passion for basketball and have no children of their own.

SRINAGAR

Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is expected to be shifted to a house on Gupkar road near his official residence. His transfer has become unavoidable as Delhi is flying 36 ministers to Srinagar and they will stay in the Hari Niwas guesthouse, where Omar is being held in protective custody since August 5. Omar along with his father and Mehbooba Mufti, were detained under section 107 of Code of Criminal Procedure which allows authorities and an executive magistrate to put any person under preventive custody for a period of six months if he receives information that the person is likely to commit a breach of the peace or disturb the public tranquillity.

As part of an outreach programme to break the deadlock between citizens and the Centre, reports said Modi government is flying 36 ministers to Jammu and Kashmir, starting from January 18. They will “spread awareness about the positive impact of abrogation of Article 370 provisions and the development measures taken by the government for the region”, and educate the people about BJP government’s developmental plans for the UT. They will come on different dates. The 36 ministers will make 59 visits, 51 of them to Jammu and eight to Kashmir.

JAMMU

Months after a trucker Narayan Dutt, a resident of Kotla Sera in Katra was killed by militants in South Kashmir, a flicker of hope has emerged for his three orphans: Atul Sharma, 17, Tania 15, Sania 12 and Vansh 7. Atul had already dropped out of the school unlike the three minors. Their mother was allegedly murdered by Dutt in 2013 and was out on bail. Having no other relatives, they were living with their father’s brother, already bed-ridden, and his wife. Last week, SARA (Suicides Are Avoidable) adopted the three school going children and would bear their educational expense till class 12th. The organization has also got bank accounts of three children opened and an amount of Rs 1,000 a month is being transferred, which they can use for their day to day needs. Though the children had extended a relief of Rs 1 lakh to them, the kids can not withdraw it till they are majors.

DHAKA

A number of Kashmiri students who have secured admissions in various medical colleges in Bangladesh are camping in Kolkata and waiting for their travel visas, The Telegraph reported. It identified some students as Zeenat Shakeel, Rubena Assadullah, and Birjees Habib who have been waiting for the visa since December 20. The newspaper quoted them saying that they were being “discriminated against” as visas have come to all Indian students excepting those from Kashmir. They have been told that the Bangladesh high commission in Delhi had stopped issuing visas to applicants from Kashmir since December 20, although it was not confirmed by Dhaka foreign office. Now the Kashmiri students are shuttling between Delhi, Guwahati, Agartala and Calcutta, where the Bangladesh operates its embassy offices. All of these students have paid no less than US $20,000 as tuition fees in advance.

UDHAMPUR

A Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel was killed and another injured when a recruit went berserk and opened fire on his colleague. Later, he killed himself as well. The incident was reported from CISF garrison at Sui, almost 5 kms from Udhampur. The slain duo were identified as constables BN Murti and Mohammad Tasleem. Constable Sanjay Thali survived.

URI

Bollywood’s new fortune hunters released Uri: A Surgical Strike in anticipation of the Lok Sabha polls and it was a factor in the swing. In Kashmir, however, it had a different kind of impact. Frustrated over the situation after August 5, four south Kashmir teenagers decided to finish examination and cross the LoC and get trained in weapons. One of them volunteered to show them the way because he had watched the film in which the Indian commandos cross the line. Four boys, the youngest being 15, boarded the train and a bus to Baramulla and finally to Uri. They carried atlas, dates and some money. As they watched Uri in evening they shivered in pain and panic after which they checked into a hotel, police arrested them. They were handed over to their families two days later. They all are now busy studying, admitting it was just a childish mistake.

MALAYSIA

Muslim preacher and televangelist, Dr Zakir Naik, who now lives in Malaysia has said Modi government had offered him safe passage to India if he supports BJP’s Kashmir interventions. He claimed to have met “a representative” in late September 2019, who was “under direct instructions” from Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah and the government wants to use his connections to improve relations with the Muslim countries. On a video, Naik said he could not support acts of injustice as revoking Article 370, giving special status to Jammu and Kashmir, was unconstitutional, and that it would be a betrayal of the people of Kashmir, media reports said. In India, Enforcement Directorate has accused Naik of acquiring about Rs1.9 billion worth of “criminal assets”, a charge the preacher has denied.

IRAQ

Tragic but it is worth a Hollywood plot. Mr and Mrs Nazir Ahmad Dar went on a pilgrimage on December 3 along with 68 others. After Umrah in Saudi Arabia, they were supposed to visit sacred sites in Syria, Iran and Iraq. As he landed at the Najf International Airport on December 30, he was immediately arrested. Reason: A red corner Interpol warrant has been issued against Nazir.

The twist is that the Interpol notice is against his namesake, a resident of Harwan, Bomai in Sopore, who is wanted by India for “criminal conspiracy, offences relating to membership of a terrorist organization and support given to a terrorist organization, raising funds for a terrorist organization”. The notice, available on the Interpol website also features his image that is completely different from Dar, an illiterate farmer, who is in custody. Apart from name, caste, the two Nazir’s share date of birth and, interestingly, a Sopore link. Nazir’s mother is Khatija Sopori.

Indian embassy in Bhagdad has written to the concerned over the strange case of mistaken identity but the Interpol in Iraq is unyielding. Even court says he will be released after Interpol gives him the clearance. They had retained him at Muslim bin Aqeel police station and have now shifted him to a proper jail in Najf.

The entire group has landed back in Delhi. These include his wife, who is in pain. The family at Zadibal is in shock over how their father’s lifetime off shore travel landed him in custody for nothing.

SRINAGAR

Mir Shafkat Hussain, one of Kashmir’s most prominent lawyer handling human rights cases is no more. Suffering with a chest problem for many years, the 54 year old lawyer was admitted to the AIIMS in Delhi where he breathed his last after being admitted for three days. His body was flown to Srinagar for burial at Dalgate, his ancestral home. Shafkat has been at the bar for around 29 years. His colleagues said he might have handled almost 10,000 habeas corpus petitions, mostly pertaining to the Public Safety Act, in his career. One of his colleagues said the nice man had literally dedicated his career to fighting these cases. “He was not a commercial lawyer in strict sense of the word,” the lawyer said. “He was handling these cases, out of conviction, at the trail court as well in the High Court.” He had married late and is survived by two minor kids.