Clampdown Easing in Kashmir 08/17 09:11
NEW DELHI (AP) -- Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir began restoring
landline phone services on Saturday after a nearly two-week security crackdown
and news blackout following a decision by India's government to downgrade the
Muslim-majority region's autonomy.
Shahid Choudhary, a government administrator in Srinagar, the region's main
city, said restrictions were being lifted in most areas and government offices
were open. He also said on Twitter that food and other supplies were available
Police said restrictions on the movement of people were relaxed in several
parts of the region. "Situation remains peaceful," they said on Twitter.
Rohit Kansal, another administrator in Srinagar, told reporters that public
transport buses had started operating in some rural areas in Indian-controlled
Kashmir. He also said cellphone and internet services had resumed in some
districts, but news reports said that happened only in the Hindu-dominated
Jammu region, which was not threatened by anti-India protests.
Security forces that blanketed the region remained on high alert after
hundreds of people took to the streets for an anti-India protest following
Friday prayers in Srinagar.
The government had imposed the lockdown to avoid a violent reaction to its
decision on Aug. 5 to downgrade the autonomy of the region. The decision by the
Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi has raised tensions with Pakistan and
touched off anger in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir.
There was a deadly exchange of gun and mortar firing between Indian and
Pakistani forces Saturday across the militarized Line of Control that divides
Kashmir between the archrivals. Both countries claim the Himalayan region in
its entirety, and they have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir.
An Indian soldier was killed by Pakistani forces in Nowshera sector, Col.
Aman Anand, an Indian army spokesman, said in New Delhi. Earlier in the week,
Pakistani security forces said firing by India in the region killed three
Pakistani soldiers and two civilians in separate incidents. Both sides
frequently exchange gunfire in the region and accuse each other of violating a
2003 cease-fire accord.
In Islamabad, Pakistani military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said the
country's armed forces were fully prepared to respond to any Indian aggression.
The U.N. Security Council met to discuss Kashmir for the first time in
decades, and Pakistan's U.N. ambassador said the session showed that people in
the region "may be locked up ... but their voices were heard today." The
council took no action during the closed meeting, which was called for by China
President Donald Trump spoke with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan by
phone on Friday and conveyed the importance of India and Pakistan reducing
tensions through dialogue, said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley.
Khan welcomed the Security Council meeting, saying on Twitter that
"addressing the suffering of the Kashmiri people and ensuring resolution of the
dispute is the responsibility of this world body."
According to Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Trump said he
would also talk to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Qureshi said the Security Council taking up Kashmir proved that it is an
international dispute and not an internal matter of India as New Delhi claimed.
Kansal, the Srinagar administrator, said landline services in 17 of around
100 telephone exchanges had been made operational in Indian-held Kashmir on
Saturday. Half of the region's exchanges are expected to be in service by
Sunday, he said.
Primary schools will reopen on Monday, and public transport will be restored
gradually after evaluating the security situation, said B.V.R. Subrahmanyam, a
senior official with the regional government.
On Friday, hundreds of demonstrators in Srinagar carried green Islamic flags
and signs reading "Stop genocide in Kashmir, wake up world." Some threw stones
and clashed with security forces, which responded with tear gas.
Modi, who has defended the Kashmir changes as freeing the territory from
separatism, and his supporters have welcomed the move. One of the revisions
allows anyone to buy land in Indian-controlled Kashmir, which some Kashmiris
fear could change the region's culture and demographics. Critics have likened
it to Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars over control of Kashmir since they
won independence from British colonialists in 1947. India accuses Pakistan of
arming and training insurgents who have been fighting for Kashmir's
independence from India or its merger with Pakistan since 1989. Pakistan says
it only provides moral and diplomatic support to rebels.