Briefing (November 03-09, 2019)

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Britain’s Kashmir Politics

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reiterated UK’s age-old Kashmir policy as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan but asserted the situation in the Valley as one of ‘profound’ concern to his country. “The welfare of communities in Kashmir is of profound concern to the UK government,” Johnson informed the Conservative Party MP Steve Baker. “It is the long-standing position of the UK government that the crisis in Kashmir is fundamentally a matter for India and Pakistan to resolve. And it is not – alas, since we were there at the very beginning – for us as the UK to prescribe a solution in that dispute.”

Baker is MP for Wycombe in south-east England which has a large Kashmiri-originated population, making him a vocal lawmaker against the abrogation of Kashmir’s special status.

“Thousands of British people in Wycombe have family and friends on one or both sides of the Line of Control in Kashmir. With so many serious allegations of human rights abuses being made, does the government accept that this is not merely some foreign policy issue to be dealt with by others, but that it is an issue of the most and profound concern in Wycombe and in towns across the UK?” Baker asked in the Parliament.

Johnson’s response followed that of Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s to the British Parliament in September, saying that the UK government wanted all allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir since the revocation of Article 370 to be “thoroughly, promptly and transparently” investigated. “We are aware of the implications of the revocation of Article 370. It has caused interest and concern not just within India and Pakistan but amongst communities throughout the UK and internationally,” Raab remarked. “It is a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan but it is also an international issue, given the human rights at stake.”

Britain, hosting major chunks of Kashmiri-originated populations, has been directly impacted by the happening in Kashmir. On October 27, Scotland Yard had to impose restrictions on a Kashmir-related demonstration due to pressure from Delhi. But the population pressure – linking concerns to politics and business, is keeping Kashmir alive inside and outside the House of Commons, and Kashmir-related activities are still going on in the UK.

Pakistani newspaper The News reported that on November 7, Chatham House Building is set to witness a panel discussion on Kashmir, bringing together leading voices from Pakistan, India and the United Kingdom. The conference The cost to Britain of the Kashmir Crisis — is there a solution? is being sponsored by Chinoy Group. “This conference will bring together international leaders and known opinion makers from Pakistan, India and Britain. It will be a two hour discussion on Kashmir at the Chatham House Building. Leading British and South Asian journalists are attending the panel discussion also,” the newspaper quoted Abdurehman Chinoy, saying, “The conference will look at the possible role Britain can play to defuse tensions between the two nuclear states leading towards the resolution of Kashmir.”

The Oxford Union, a British debating platform, has shown an interest in the Kashmir issue. Last week, the platform invited SitaramYechury (CPIM) and Baijayant Panda (BJP) to debate on The Crisis In Kashmir: Should Special Status Have Been Revoked? Yechury is one of the few leaders who has opposed the abrogation and visited Kashmir many times on permission granted by the Supreme Court. BJP sees abrogation as the medicine of all the ills that Kashmir has been facing.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose Delhi arrival coincided with the roll-out of the UT after bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir, has continued with the same stand. The German envoy to India, Walter J Lindner, has told reporters that Germany’s position on Kashmir is consistent with that of the European Union, which asks India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir issue through dialogue, seeking a peaceful and political solution which is respectful of the interests of Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control.

RAWALPANDI

On October 26, on the eve of Pakistan’s Kashmir Black Day, Punjabi pop-singer Humaira Arshad had a performance at the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Pakistan Army. The show was organised by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) for the officers to show solidarity for Kashmiris, according to Tribune. As the singer tweeted pictures of the show, it triggered an embarrassment that eventually led to deletion of the tweet. Arshad’s managers confirmed she charged almost Rs 9 lakh for the 3-hour long show but refused details. The newspaper reported that an enquiry was initiated to find out why a pop-singer was invited at the GHQ. People responded angrily to the tweet. “Item songs and music for Pak Generals but bullets & bombs for Kashmiris. Welcoming Punjabis from Kartarpur while making Kashmir a battlefield and graveyard for Kashmiris. We know every evil play of these Generals,” A Kiyani shot back. “Zoom in on the uncles dancing in the front and the half-filled auditorium of uncomfortable looking people. Want to be angry, but it’s just too sad,” Nida Kirmani added.

SHOPIAN

The series of attacks on the truckers and labour involved in the apple harvest has triggered a transport crisis. Since the police have asked the truckers to avoid getting too deep in south Kashmir and are mostly parked around the army garrisons, the freight has sky-rocketed. Now it costs two hundred rupees to transport one crate of apples to Bangalore and Rs 150 to Delhi. Desperate growers are now taking their harvest in small trucks closer to the spots where the truckers can pick the load, but the larger crisis is that the non-local truckers are unwilling to risk their lives.

The latest driver who succumbed to an assassin’s bullets was Narayan Dutt from Reasi. Dutt, a native of Kakriyal village, was killed in Kulgam’s Kanilwan village. He was shot dead on October 28 and is the fourth non-Kashmiri driver who was recently killed. Trilochan Singh Wazir, who heads the Transport Welfare Association in Jammu, said the transporters are a harried lot and the government has been unable to secure their lives. Kashmir is heavily dependent on trucks, and by an average, 2000 trucks move in and out of Kashmir.

Apples, the mainstay of Kashmir’s rural economy, was caught in the crossfire due to the crisis that erupted after August 5 when the government abrogated Article 370. Trader insiders said the losses are massive as part of the crop was destroyed, part of it may never reach the market, and the panic dispatches have triggered a glut in the Delhi market impacting the margins.

MUNICH

Jewellery designer Kat Florence, renowned for creating jewellery for the stars and famous for incorporating the world’s rarest coloured gemstones into her masterpieces, is releasing her collection of Kashmir Sapphires in November. Florence believes that gemstones with this now extinct lineage would be sold to private collectors after the collection is showcased at select museums around the world. Kashmir Sapphires, mined in Kishtwar district, hold the world record for highest priced sapphires per carat ever sold at any auction. The 5 legendary Kashmir Sapphires sold in the last decade are the Rockefeller Sapphire which were sold in April 2011 for US$ 3.0 Mio, Star of Kashmir which were sold in May 2013 for US$ 3.5 Mio, then the 28 Carat Kashmir by Oscar Heyman& Brothers which sold April 2014 for US$5.1 Mio, the Cartier Kashmir Bracelet which changed owners on May 2016 for US$ 7.7 Mio and the Peacock Necklace November which went 2018 for a record US$ 14.9 Mio, making the Kat Florence Kashmir Sapphire Collection one of the most exciting and expected events in the world of rare and exquisite gems.

NEW YORK

A study by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has revealed that Twitter has blocked more accounts in Kashmir than in every other country combined. The committee analysed the data that Twitter gave to Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center and its Lumen project. It showed, according to CPJ, legal notices having been issued to the company by the Indian government, directing them to take down tweets or accounts. The trend spiked in August of 2017. Twitter has said that they are “compelled to comply with under local law” and they publish twice a year the Twitter Transparency Report for purposes of public awareness and disclosure. “A CPJ analysis of those notices reveals that hundreds of thousands of tweets blocked in India since August 2017 [until August 2019]under the company’s [Twitter’s] country withheld content policy were shared by accounts that focus on Kashmir,” The Hindu quoted CPJ’s Avi Asher-Schapiro and Ahmed Zidan writing in a blog post on CPJ’s website. “They added that among the dozens of accounts that were withheld, CPJ identified several that were sharing news and opinion, raising serious questions about what safeguards were in place to ensure freedom of the press and the free flow of information.”

“Combined, the 53 notices list several hundred URLs that they allege contain illegal content. CPJ analyzed every account involved, whether the request was based on a single tweet, several tweets, or the account itself, reviewing more than 400 in total. Around 45% of those accounts mentioned Kashmir in the handle or bio, or had recently tweeted about Kashmir,” they wrote. “They added that 93 of those accounts were withheld in India when CPJ tested them in September and October 2019. Another 29 individual tweets from different accounts were also withheld. The vast majority of the withheld accounts were from the group that referenced Kashmir, hosting over 9,20,000 tweets between them, CPJ found.”

Powerful Democracy’s 6 Questions

WASHINGTON: Six US lawmakers, all Democrats, have sought specific details on the relaxation of the Kashmir clampdown. In a letter to the Indian ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla in Washington, they have remarked that their constituents “have painted a much different picture of the situation than what you shared with us”. Urging India to open up, they have said: “We believe true transparency can only be achieved when journalists and members of Congress are allowed free access to the region.”

The details that they are seeking are: whether all landlines have been restored, when the government will restore all mobile connections (including pre-paid ones), that of Internet access (not just at kiosks), and what the status of the curfew is. Besides, the American lawmakers have asked for the number of people detained under the Public Safety Act or any other legal provisions since August 5 — requesting them to “please be as specific as possible” — and asked how many of those detained were minors. The letter also poses some uncomfortable questions: “Why are foreign journalists disallowed to visit Kashmir, and will Delhi let the US lawmakers or other foreign officials visit the state?” And “What is the standard judicial procedure for someone detained under the Public Safety Act?” It also asks for details about the government’s plans to allow residents to return to uninhibited movement: “When can we expect that?” Referring to the rights of peaceful protesters, the letter asks: “Can you confirm whether there are any known cases of protesters being blinded by rubber bullets, including the number of children? Are rubber bullets still being used for crowd control? What is the Indian government doing to ensure the rights of peaceful protesters?”

On October 24, the letter was sent by lawmakers David N Cicilline, Dina Titus, Andy Levin, Susan Wild, Chrissy Houlahan and James McGovern. The questions, the lawmakers pointed out, were a follow-up to the briefing given to them by Shringla on October 16.

The questionnaire to Delhi’s top man in the US came in anticipation of the acting Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Alice G Wells, who seeks from India a “road map” to political and economic normalcy in Kashmir as well as immediate release of all the political detainees, even as it asked Pakistan to take “sustained and irreversible” steps against militants and terrorists in its territory.

“We remain deeply concerned about the situation in the Valley, where daily life for nearly 8 million residents has been severely impacted since the decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and to detain without charge political leaders and restrict communications,” Wells said. She, however, cited the restoration of post-paid mobile phone services in the region to state that there has been “some progress” on the issue.

Wells said Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and HizbulMujahideen “obviously are the problem” to restoring normalcy in Kashmir as she called upon Islamabad to act against terror outfits.

Solace to Delhi came from Republican Congressman George Holding, applauding Modi’s “bold step” of abrogating an “outdated and temporary” provision of the Indian Constitution. “The steps that Prime Minister Modi and the Parliament have taken are needed, they’re good for the long-term stability of the region, and they should be applauded,” Holding was quoted saying in the American House. “Up until recently, Kashmir had been governed by Article 370, which was an outdated provision of law that the Indian constitution recognized as temporary. Article 370 might have worked well for those with political connections, but it denied economic opportunities for the people.”

There is a bounty of Rs 10 lakh each on three militants in Kishtwar – Muhammad Amin aka Jahangir Saroori, Riyaz Ahmed aka Hazari, and MudassirHussain. Earlier, the police in Doda announced a reward of Rs 15 lakh for anyone who helps to nab Hizb militants Haroon Abbas Wani, alias Moin-ul-Islam, and Masood Ahmed

MIRPUR

England’s spin bowler, Adil Rashid, 31, spent several days in Mirpur, his ancestral land, after the earthquake killed 40 people and left 850 severely wounded. “There was a lot of destruction and at the time I was doing my rehab, so it was the perfect opportunity for me to go and see what had happened, how bad the damage was and for me to give a helping hand,” he was quoted by Daily Mail saying. “It does put things in perspective. That’s life and death. Our problems are playing a game we enjoy.” Rashid has a shoulder injury and was on steroids during the World Cup 2019. It was during rehab that he visited the birthplace of his parents in Mirpur. Before he personally flew to see the devastation, he helped a Birmingham-based charity Islamic Relief in handing out relief kits. Rashid has been a leading ODI wicket-taker between the 2015 and 2019 World Cups.

Delhi

After visiting Kashmir, an eleven-member fact-finding team has found a virtually inaccessible judicial system, widespread and repeated claims of torture, and an overwhelming majority afflicted with psychological trauma. Comprising human rights lawyers Mihir Desai, Lara Jesani, VeenaGowda, Clifton D’Rozario, Aarti Mundkur and Saranga Ugalmugle, psychiatrist AmitSen, trade unionist Gautam Mody and Bangalore-based activists Nagari Babaiah, Ramdas Rao and Swati Seshadri, they visited five Kashmir districts between September 28 and October 4, and released their report last week.

“The section on torture in their report contains allegations of beatings where the victims’ screams were recorded and played on loudspeakers, torture by electric shocks on genitals and sexual abuse of boys and women. None of the alleged victims or other witnesses were willing to reveal their names for fear of reprisal,” The Telegraph reported. The report said that the communication blockade made operations of the judiciary non-operational as the boycott by lawyers added to the crisis. Only six lawyers are permitted by the Bar Association to appear in habeas corpus petitions, numbering around 600.

The report titled Imprisoned Resistance: 5th August And Its Aftermath alleged that the children and adolescents coming for psychological first aid in two districts reported “extreme violence by armed forces and night raids”. The patients were suffering from paralysing fear, acute anxiety, panic attacks, depressive and dissociative symptoms, post-traumatic symptoms, suicidal tendencies and severe anger outbursts. It has termed the TV projected normalcy as abnormal and made various suggestions to help Kashmir get normal.

For the 150 positions of Special Police Forces (SPO) in Rajouri, the district got 8600 applications

RIYADH

The news from Saudi Arabia is that Kashmir did not figure anywhere when Prime Minister Nadendra Modi attended the Davos In Desert, The Future Investment Initiative (FII), a plan to achieve Vision 2030. The event opened with Reliance Industries boss Mukesh Ambani talking about how India and Saudi Arabia could work together.

Modi had “wide-ranging talks” with King Salman bin Abdulaziz and his Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS). A joint statement issued after the delegation-level talks between Modi and MbS reiterated “their categorical rejection of all forms of interference in the internal affairs of countries.” It also asked the international community to “fulfill its responsibilities towards preventing any attacks on the sovereignty of State”, without naming any country. The two sides signed MoUs on defence industry collaboration, security cooperation, bilateral air services, cooperation in renewable energy and regulating medical products.

 India Today said that it was told by Indian envoy to Saudi Arabia Dr Ausaf Sayeed that the relationship between the two countries cannot be hyphenated with any other country (read Pakistan). Interestingly, Pakistan premier, Imran Khan could not keep his date with the event. The two countries “discussed regional and international issues of mutual interest”, and reiterated “their categorical rejection of all forms of interference in internal affairs.” The media suggests Saudi’s quietness in UNHRC, OIC and other world forums on Kashmir explains the relationship that the two countries “have moved beyond religion”.

The event witnessed the participation of Bharat Forge, Ashok Leyland and L&T among others. India is seeing the Saudi kingdom as a major opportunity for defence-related supplies. Saudi Arabia has imported 12 per cent of all global arms sales in the last five year period 2014-2018 estimated at around $280-290 billion. The US is the top supplier (68%), followed by UK (16%), and France is third (4.3%).

The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir drafted an interim budget of Rs 61,802 crore for five months ending March 2020 on the basis of the 2019-20 budget worth Rs 88,911 crore. Only part of the budget could be spent as the state was bifurcated into two Union Territories. An estimate of Rs 1,23,125 crore will be spent by the two UTs in fiscal 2020-21, with almost half of the budgets being committed expenditures including the now enhanced salaries and pensions of UT employees

GUPKAR

In a new twist in the old tale, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wished Dr Farooq Abdullah on his birthday. Instead of using Twitter as usual, the wishes were sent by Modi in a sealed envelope delivered at Gupkar, where Dr Abdullah has been incarcerated since August 5 under the Public Safety Act. Dr Abdullah turned 82 in jail. “You have to be pretty shameless to send a birthday greeting to a person you have detained under the draconian Public Safety Act. #Kashmir,” Congressman Salaman Soz tweeted.

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