Briefing (October 13-19, 2019)

BEIJING

For most of the last week, the tension in Delhi’s diplomatic circles was if at all Chinese President Xi Jinping will keep his date with Mamallapuram, a beach resort in Tamil Nadu’s Chennai, for his second informal summit with Prime Minister Modi, scheduled for October 11-12. The first such exchanged took place between the two leaders at Wuhan in China in 2018. The focus of the summit is to improve communications at the highest levels between the world’s second and third largest economies, jointly controlling 17.6 percent of the global economy.

Finally, when the visit was cleared and confirmed the media reported that China has shifted its Kashmir stand by avoiding any reference to UN and insisted on bilateral way-out between India and Pakistan. “We call on India and Pakistan to engage in dialogue and consultation on all issues including Kashmir issue and consolidate mutual trust,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters days before Xi’s India visit and a summit with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan who was in China for two days on October 8. “This is in line with the interest of both countries and common aspiration of the world.”

This sent the experts working on China’s Kashmir statements. On August 6, China issued two statements. In one, it opposed India’s move to create a separate Union Territory of Ladakh highlighting Beijing’s territorial claims in the area. The other one said: “We call on both India and Pakistan to peacefully resolve the relevant disputes through dialogue and consultation and safeguard peace and stability in the region.” As Kashmir story moved to UN, Wang Yi, Chinese foreign minister added the UN and UNSC resolutions on Kashmir in a joint media interaction along with his Pakistan counterpart. “It (Kashmir issue) should be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN Charter, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreement.” Wang reiterated the same in his UN speech. In this backdrop, Geng Shuang comment was seen a clear shift.

Khan, in his third visit to China since August 2018, took his army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa in summit meetings with Chinese President and Prime minister, a marked departure in protocol. After the summit meeting, Xi said China is paying “close attention” to the situation in Kashmir and the “facts are clear”. Post-summit, a joint statement was released. “The Pakistan side briefed the Chinese side on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, including its concerns, position, and current urgent issues,” the statement said. “The Chinese side responded that it was paying close attention to the current situation in Jammu & Kashmir and reiterated that the Kashmir issue is a dispute left from history, and should be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN Charter, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements.” China, according to the statement, opposes “any unilateral actions that complicate the situation”.

India reacted sharply: “India’s position has been consistent and clear that Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of India,” MEA spokesman Ravesh Kumar said. “China is well aware of our position. It is not for other countries to comment on the internal affairs of India.”

All these developments area taking place in anticipation of the informal summit envisaging two rounds of one-on-one discussions and a session of delegation-level talks. Xi will be accompanied by two heavyweights on foreign policy Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi, besides senior officials, offering the possibility of these leaders engaging with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and National Security Adviser Ajti Doval, who will also be present. While confirming the India visit, China said the two leaders share a “strong personal chemistry”. Sino-Indian trade was put at US $ 95.5 billion in 2018.

Congress said that Delhi must talk about Hong Kong and even Tibet. “Xi Jingping says he is watching Kashmir. But why does not Modi government issue a statement that India too is watching pro-democracy protests muzzled in Hong Kong. The government must say we are are watching human rights violations in Xinjiang and the continued oppression in Tibet as along South China Sea,” Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said. Reports suggest that Kashmir is off the discussion and if the Xi rakes it up, India will reiterate its already stated position.

GOA

The International Film Festival of India, at Goa would open with Nooreh, a short film directed by Ashish Pandey. Set in Kashmir, the 22-minute short film is about its titular eight-year-old protagonist living near the India-Pakistan border. One night, Nooreh discovers that the frequent gun-battles that rage near her home start when she falls asleep and stop once she’s awake. The film was shot in Chuntiwari and Izmarg villages of Gurez. Its characters speak Shina language, apart from Kashmiri and Urdu. Once ready, the film was screened in a local school and the army took a copy to screen it in their Sadhbavna meetings.

5,300 West Pakistan refugee families will get a one-time financial assistance of Rs 5.50 lakh each under Prime Minister’s Development Package 2015 for Jammu and Kashmir

SRINAGAR

Regular Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has extended the tenure of incumbent J&K Bank Chairman, R K Chhibber by six months. He will now retire on April 9, April, 2020. Chhibber took-over as interim CEO for three months in June after his predecessor Parvez Ahmad was removed unceremoniously. After the initial three months was given a month’s extension early September. Now RBI gave him six months to oversee the bank till the fiscal year concludes.

NAGALAND

In wake of abrogation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi has literally gone back on its commitment with the Naga rebels with whom an agreement was ready for formal signatures. The agreement would get the state its own flag, constitution and possibility a separate passport. National Socialist Council of Nagalim – Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM)’s 85 year old leader Thuingaleng Muivah has termed stripping of Kashmir’s special status as “unacceptable”. Nagaland is safeguarded by Article 371A, and Home Minister Amit Shah has asserted that it will not see the fate of Article 370. NSCN-IM signed a ceasefire deal in 1997, but continues to work for creation of Nagalim comprising all Naga-majority areas straddling across Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh states, as well as a part of western Myanmar across the border. The three states are unwilling to ceding their Naga areas to the Nagalim. In 2015, Muivah signed a 16-point framework agreement with Prime Minister Modi and interlocutor RN Ravi but there has not been any follow up. Observers see the Nagalim demand runs in contrast with BJPs Eak Vidhan, Eak Pradhan. Muivah has said they were surprised over the communication that Nagas must come within the union of India. Modi government has set October 31 deadline to arrive at a solution but seemingly it may not take place.

PUNJAB

Last week, Kashmir’s two cancer patients were in news – one each in Punjab and Utter Pradesh. In Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh helped a Kashmiri student, Mujeeb Ahmad Malla, get the treatment for his colon cancer at the PGIMER. In Utter Pardesh’s Bareilly jail, authorities did not permit a Parvaiz Ahmad Palla, 33, a Kashmiri cancer patient his medicine that his family had got for him. Palla, a resident of Mantribug (Kulgam) was arrested under Public Safety Act (PSA) on August 6. In Palla’s case, the family has now approached the court challenging the allegation that he was a threat to public order. Meanwhile a report from Chandigarh said that Khalisa Aid has organized the basic requirements of Kashmiri students who were unable to get in touch with their families back home and were running short of provisions.

MUZAFFARABAD

A major tragedy was averted when PaK police blocked access to a procession of a few thousand Pakistani Kashmiri residents – arranged by JKLF, to breach the Line of Control (LoC) and cross into Jammu and Kashmir. They were sent home from Jiskool, almost 13 kilometers short of the defacto border. JKLF had avoided paying any heed to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan who had warned against any “emotional” attempt by the people to breach the border, insisting it could hurt Kashmiris’ struggle. International media reported the thick procession mostly youngsters, spent a night at Garhi Dupatta and moved towards Chakothi, the other day. This, however, was not the first attempt. In 1992, JKLF made first such attempt in which 12 of them were killed in clashes with police on the Pakistani side of Kashmir.

URI

The Line of Control (LoC), seen globally as world’s most active border, continue to be hot and tense. Kashmir lost a civilian when Pakistani shells landed around Uri’s Rustum Post. Since August 5, when the rival armies are in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation, they are accusing each other of violating the ceasefire. On September 29, Pakistan alleged “unprovoked” firing in Nikial and Rakhchikri sectors, asserting a 60-year-old woman and a 13-year-old boy were killed and three others were injured. Almost the same acquisition came from India side saying the Pakistani shelling led to injuries to six civilians including a 12-year-old boy in Poonch’s Balakot village. On Sunday, Pakistan alleged a 45 year old woman was killed in Abbaspur. A day later it said it lost a soldier to sniper fire. India has held Pakistani army responsible for over 2,000 ceasefire violations along the LoC that left 21 people dead and scores injured.

Meanwhile, a court of inquiry has established that IAF shot down one of its own helicopters on February 27 during clashes with Pakistan killing all six on board. It coincided with the downing of a MIG by Pakistan, the same day. The crisis came days after the IAF carried out a raid on Balakote in Pakistan and claimed massacring a militant camp.

62.71 lakh pilgrims have visited Vaishno Devi in 2019 so far

DELHI

Various federal law enforcing agencies have gone pro-active against some of the Kashmiri separatists. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has issued a notice to Shabir Shah’s wife and their two daughters – Sama Shabir and Sehar Shabir, asking them to vacate their residential house at Rawalpora, Srinagar, and hand over its possession to ED within 10 days. The notice came under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). In terror funding case that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is investigating has filed a 3000-page second supplementary charge sheet before a Delhi court against JKLF’s Yasin Malik, Asiya Andrabi, Shabir Shah and Masarat Alam Bhat. The case registered on May 30, 2017 saw the first charge sheet being filed against 12 accused, including Hafiz Saeed, and Syed Salahuddin, on January 18, 2018. Subsequently, the first supplementary charge sheet was filed on January 22, 2019, against a person, who was acting as a conduit for financial transactions by the separatists. Former lawmaker Engineer Rashid has also been named in the charge sheet.

LONDON

Weeks after the Labour Party passed a resolution in Brighton calling upon its leader Jeremy Corbyn to meet the high commissioners of both India and Pakistan to ensure there is “mediation” and restoration of peace and normality to prevent a potential nuclear conflict, the pro-India Labour politicians are seeking its recall. “Accept that Kashmir is a disputed territory and the people of Kashmir should be given the right of self-determination in accordance with UN resolutions,” the resolution of September 25, said. “The Labour party to stand with the Kashmiri people fighting against occupation, this is vital as we stand for social justice and ethical foreign policy.”

Reacting to the development, India’s foreign ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had said: “Government has noted certain developments at the Labour Party Conference on September 25 pertaining to the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir. We regret the uninformed and unfounded positions taken at this event.” Now, Labour Friends of India (LFIN) has sent a letter to Corbyn and shadow Home Secretary Emily Thornberry protesting against the procedure followed in the passage of the emergency motion. They have asserted that abrogation of Article 370 was an internal matter of India. “Issues of sovereignty are a matter for the Indian government; border issues are matters for the governments of India and Pakistan,” Indian origin MP Keith Vaz was quoted saying. UK is home to almost 1.5 million British Indians and close to 1.2 million British Pakistanis. The Birmingham city mostly belongs to Mirpuri Kashmiris.

The Labour Party stormed Indian politics again after “UK representatives from the Indian Congress Party” met Corbyn and discussed human rights situation in Kashmir. BJP termed it “appalling” and has sought an explanation from Congress even though the party says they met him to condemn the party’s Kashmir resolution. Corbyn tweeted after the meeting: “A very productive meeting with UK representatives from the Indian Congress Party where we discussed the human rights situation in Kashmir. There must be a de-escalation and an end to the cycle of violence and fear which has plagued the region for so long.” Congress did say that it was “shocked” as “any issue pertaining to Jammu & Kashmir are purely India’s internal affairs”.

WASHINGTON

The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has added an appeal to end “humanitarian crisis” in Kashmir in its report ahead of the annual Foreign Appropriations Act for 2020. The Act allocates federal funds for furthering American foreign policy. The amendment was mooted by Senator Chris Van Hollen, before his Delhi visit. The amendment that was accepted unanimously by the bipartisan committee, when Prime Minister Modi was in US, “notes with concern the current humanitarian crisis in Kashmir and calls on the Government of India to: fully restore telecommunications and Internet services; lift its lockdown and curfew; and release individuals detained pursuant to the Government’s revocation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution.” Van Hollen, during his Delhi visit, had requested permission to visit Srinagar but was denied. No diplomat or foreign journalist was granted permission to visit Kashmir since August 5.

Senator Mark Warner

The Senator told The Indian Express that Delhi told him the time was inappropriate for his visit. “My personal view is that if you have nothing to hide, there is nothing to fear by allowing visitors to the state,” he told the newspaper. Born in Karachi and having gone to school in Kodaikanal while his father served as an American diplomat in Sri Lanka, Van Hollen has been clued into the Indian politics. Despite being refused permission to visit Kashmir, he came to India and met officials and key members of civil society in Delhi for two days. MEA has not reacted to the report. Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar earlier said many key decision-makers in the US had been “misinformed by their media”.

He later flew to Pakistan where he visited Muzaffarabad. Accompanied by fellow senator Maggie Hassan and Foreign Secretary Paul Jones, Van Hollen also visited North Waziristan.

On October 7, the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) took to twitter seeking roolback of communications shutdown because of its “devastating impact” on Kashmiris. “India’s communication blackout in Kashmir is having a devastating impact on the lives and welfare of everyday Kashmiris. It’s time for India to lift these restrictions and afford Kashmiris the same rights and privileges as any other Indian citizen,” it said. The HFAC shared a New York Times report about Amir Farooq Dar, a 22 year old boy, who died of snakebite as his family could not get him anti-venom in time because of severe communications and movement restrictions.

The HFAC is holding a hearing on human rights in South Asia on October 22, in which Assistant Secretary Alice Wells, who oversees all State Department policy towards South Asia, and Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Scott Busby, who oversees human rights efforts is South Asia, will testify.

Senator Chris Van Hollen

The concern over Kashmir is mounting amongst some influential US lawmakers. US Senator and leading Democratic candidate for the presidential nomination Elizabeth Warren has again expressed concerns over the continuing restrictions in Kashmir, joining fellow senators and rivals Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris and other lawmakers. “The US-India partnership has always been rooted in our shared democratic values,” Warren wrote on Twitter. “I’m concerned about recent events in Kashmir, including a continued communications blackout and other restrictions. The rights of the people of Kashmir must be respected.”

The Democratic Senator Mark Warner, who is co-chair of the Senate India Caucus, has also asserted that he was “disturbed” by restrictions on communications and movement of people in Jammu and Kashmir. He asked Delhi to live up to democratic principles by allowing freedom of press, information and political participation. “While I understand India has legitimate security concerns, I am disturbed by its restrictions on communications and movement within Jammu and Kashmir, Virgina senator Warner tweeted. “I hope India will live up to its democratic principles by allowing freedom of press, information, and political participation.”

Meanwhile, New England senator Maggie Hassan visited PaK and met Imran Khan. “We also visited Pakistani-controlled Kashmir,” she tweeted. “Amid escalating tensions in Kashmir, it’s critical that we find ways to help de-escalate the situation on both sides. I’m now traveling to India where I’ll meet officials to further discuss the situation and international trade.”

MUMBAI

Sanjay Garg, a fashion designer behind the Raw Mango label faced lot of music for releasing his latest collection Zooni. A campaign on social media accused Garg of being insensitive towards Kashmir that is currently in the third month of lockdown and information blockade. His collection featuring clothes invoking Kashmiri silhouettes and cuts was shot in Kashmir by photographer Avani Rai, daughter of Raghu Rai, and released on Instagram October 2. He was accused of “cultural appropriation”, and insensitively “exoticising” the state in his “disrespectful” and badly timed adventure. Zooni comprises videos, photographs and stories depicted a woman in a red, designer pheran, draping a bridal veil at her wedding. The scathing criticism forced Garg to pull his campaign down the same evening. This has frustrated the entire team that said they have been working on Zooni for around two years.  “I am aghast,” Garg told Indian Express. “..And this extreme anger and backlash, I can’t make head or tail of this. Would this collection have been different had a Kashmiri designer done this?… Matlab, kya Kashmir mera nahin hai? I wanted people to know what a Kashmiri nikaah is. And they are questioning why I have used and appropriated the pheran.”

KUALA LUMPUR

Reacting to Delhi’ regret over his UN speech, Malysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said his Kashmir reference was aimed at asking the country to solve the conflict. “We must know how to overcome this problem (Jammu and Kashmir conflict). When we make remarks, we are not targeting specifically anyone but we only want both parties to negotiate and not resort to violence,” Mathir has said. “I raised this issue with Modi (India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi) when we met in Vladivostok.” He said his Kashmir reference in UN speech was “a follow-up”.

Earlier on October 5, 2019, India “deeply regrets” statements made by Turkey and Malaysia on the Kashmir issue.

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