SRINAGAR: UN Secretary General’s call to India and Pakistan for restraint and dialogue has got a positive response from Kashmir’s separatist camp. This happened at a time when one more death was reported in the shelling exchanges between India and Pakistan bringing the toll to 15 in first three weeks of 2018.
“Welcome the statement and concern expressed by @antonioguterres over the present situation at the LOC and in Kashmir,” Kashmir cleric and leader of the Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq said in a tweet. “The two nuclear powers have no alternative but to engage in meaningful dialogue for resolution of the vexed #Kashmir dispute”.
Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for UN chief Antonio Guterres on Monday said the world body can offer its good offices for any mediation if all the parties agree. He said India and Pakistan should address their outstanding issues through talks.
“In principle, good offices of Guterres are always available for mediation, but everyone needs to agree on involving the UN,” Dujarric said. “As a matter of principle I’m not talking specifically about this issue, but about any issue where there is the conflict between parties, the Secretary-General’s good offices are always available.”
To questions regarding the increased escalations of hostilities between the India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir, the spokesman said: “We’re obviously aware. We’re following this… what’s been going on, really for the last 10 days.”
The clashes between the two armies have compromised the records of deaths for the whole of 2017 in a few days. The most affected areas are in Jammu-Kathua and Rajouri-Poonch regions. A vast population of the twin borders, one falling under Line of Control and the other under well-defined International Border, are facing a serious crisis that has disrupted in their routine. Scores of houses were damaged in these clashes. Schools in Rajouri have been locked and same is the case with Kathua and border belt of Jammu. Education Minister Altaf Bukhari said they will have added classes to make up the teaching loss.
With a soldier injured in the skirmishes succumbing to the injuries toady in Rajouri, reports said the toll has reached 13. However, a senior police officer said it has actually reached 15 including eight security men.
In the assembly, currently in session at Jammu, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said that as many as 25 civilians were killed and 152 injured in the past two years in cross-border firing in different parts of the state. In 2016, she said, two people were killed in Jammu, six in Samba, two in Rajouri and three in Poonch while in 2017, one civilian was killed in Jammu, three in Rajouri, seven in Poonch and one in Baramulla.
Ghulam Nabi Fai, a US-based Kashmiri activist, has also welcomed UN statement. Though expressing “gratitude” for the statement, Fai has however regretted over the repetition of the mantra that the Secretary-General “will mediate in the dispute only if both India and Pakistan agree”.
“Predictably, the Indian government in so many words has conveyed to the Secretary-General, mind his own business and not to intervene in the dispute,” Fai said. “We are amazed that the Secretary-General took the ‘no’ of India as an answer.” Fai has asked the UN to increase its “watch” on Kashmir situation.
The shelling exchanges on the border between India and Pakistan have coincided with the January 26 celebrations. Police and various other paramilitaries are deployed in strength across Kashmir and in Jammu, and the twin capital cities have been converted into fortresses. Earlier in the day, a landmine was detected by the soldiers on the highway that was defused in time. Massive patrolling has been ordered across the Srinagar city. Night patrolling teams have been inducted manning dozens of drop-gates across Kashmir as sharp-shooters have been deployed around the venues of the Republic Day functions.
In Srinagar, in an unprecedented move, the police have shifted the venue of the function from the Bakhshi Stadium to the Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium, a smaller place located within an already secured belt of the city, not far away from the powerful Gupkar Road. The Stadium is surrounded by a state-owned habitation where ministers live with Badami Bagh cantonment and Gupkar Road on the two other sides in addition to a line of shops.
Reports said the CCTV network has been activated across the city even though the footfalls in most of the markets were massively thin for the whole day. In certain areas, the police closed down tuition centres and sent students home.
Separatists across J&K have called for a strike asking people to observe the Republic Day as Black Day.
Barter Goes On
Interestingly, however, the two countries have not closed the twin windows for “trade” and civilian movement in Poonch and Uri. “After being closed for three days for cargo purposes and one day for the travel of passengers, the trade facilitation centre here is back to business,” Indian Express reported from Chakan Da Bagh in Poonch. “The entire area is sanitised and provided security by the Army. Thus, in a way, while the Army battles the ceasefire violations along the LoC just a short distance from the trade centre, it also provides security cover for the Pakistani trucks which enter into India carrying goods for local traders.”
Incidentally, the Trade Facilitation Centre (TFC) still has not repaired the damage it suffered when a 82 mm shell landed on the roof of one of its buildings.