In­dia’s Modi de­fends Kash­mir pol­icy amid Pak­istani clashes

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By Sheikh Saaliq and Emily Sch­mall

NEW DELHI — In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi on Thurs­day used an In­de­pen­dence Day speech to de­fend his de­ci­sion to strip Kash­mir of its spe­cial sta­tus as about 7 mil­lion res­i­dents of the dis­puted re­gion en­dured an un­prece­dented se­cu­rity lock­down and com­mu­ni­ca­tions black­out for an 11th day.

Pak­istan’s se­cu­rity forces, mean­while, said “un­pro­voked fir­ing” by In­dia along the mil­i­ta­rized Line of Con­trol in the re­gion killed three Pak­istani sol­diers and two civil­ians in sep­a­rate in­ci­dents. Pak­istan said it re­turned fire, killing five In­dian sol­diers. The In­dian Army said there were no In­dian ca­su­al­ties.

They were the first re­ported clashes be­tween the nu­cle­ar­armed ri­vals since New Delhi changed the sta­tus of Kash­mir, es­ca­lat­ing re­gional ten­sions. The two coun­tries have fought two wars over the ter­ri­tory.

Modi said Kash­mir’s pre­vi­ous sta­tus — some po­lit­i­cal au­ton­omy and a ban on out­siders buy­ing land and tak­ing pub­lic sec­tor jobs — had fu­eled a move­ment for sep­a­ratism in the Muslim-ma­jor­ity Hi­malayan re­gion that is claimed by both In­dia and Pak­istan.

He also said it was un­just for Kash­miri women be­cause the law said they lost their in­her­i­tance rights if mar­ry­ing a per­son from out­side the re­gion.

“The old ar­range­ment in Jammu, Kash­mir and Ladakh en­cour­aged cor­rup­tion, nepo­tism, but there was in­jus­tice when it came to rights of women, chil­dren, Dal­its, tribal com­mu­ni­ties,” Modi said, speak­ing from New Delhi’s Mughal-era Red Fort to mark 72 years of In­dia’s in­de­pen­dence from British rule.

Modi’s Hindu-led na­tion­al­ist gov­ern­ment im­posed a lock­down in In­dian-ad­min­is­tered Kash­mir on Aug. 4. That came just be­fore a pres­i­den­tial or­der was an­nounced to sub­sume the re­gion into In­dia’s fed­eral gov­ern­ment by re­vok­ing Ar­ti­cle 370 of the constituti­on and down­grad­ing the state of Jammu and Kash­mir into two fed­eral ter­ri­to­ries.

A new law al­lows any­one to buy land there, which some Kash­miris fear could change the re­gion’s cul­ture and de­mo­graph­ics. Crit­ics have likened it to Is­raeli set­tle­ments in Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries.

In­dian for­eign min­istry of­fi­cials have said Kash­mir is re­turn­ing to nor­mal, but news or­ga­ni­za­tions de­scribe se­vere con­straints, in­clud­ing the sus­pen­sion of in­ter­net, cell­phone and land­line ser­vices, and steel and barbed-wire street block­ades.

On Mon­day, the streets of Srini­gar, Kash­mir’s main city, were eerily quiet when they should have been bustling with peo­ple go­ing to mosques to pray and to stores to shop for the hol­i­day of Eid al-Adha. With an on­go­ing ban on pub­lic assem­bly, se­cu­rity forces only al­lowed the faith­ful to en­ter mosques alone or in pairs. Sev­eral main mosques were closed.

On the first In­de­pen­dence Day since the re­vo­ca­tion of Kash­mir’s spe­cial sta­tus, se­cu­rity re­stric­tions in the city were even more strin­gent. More than a dozen Hindu ac­tivists were de­tained as they tried to march to cen­tral Srinagar to cel­e­brate, ac­cord­ing to po­lice who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they weren’t au­tho­rized to talk to re­porters.

It was un­clear how long the lock­down would last.

In­dia’s top diplo­mat, for­eign sec­re­tary Vi­jay Gokhale, said Mon­day that the re­stric­tions on daily life in Kash­mir were “pri­mar­ily pre­cau­tion­ary in na­ture” and would be lifted grad­u­ally.

Some have al­ready been lifted in the Hindu-ma­jor­ity area of Jammu, where cel­e­bra­tions broke out after In­dia’s Par­lia­ment signed off on the changes Aug. 6, and in Ladakh, a rugged and pris­tine area with cul­tural ties to Ti­bet that Par­lia­ment di­vided off from Jammu and Kash­mir and made into its own fed­eral ter­ri­tory.

Res­i­dents there have been de­mand­ing such a change for years.

PRAKASH SINGH/GETTY-AFP

In­dia’s Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi de­liv­ers an In­de­pen­dence Day speech Thurs­day in New Delhi, the cap­i­tal.

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