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Nearly 4 million people in Kashmir have been confined to their homes in a total communications blackout since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stripped the primarily Muslim state of its semi-autonomous status 13 days ago. Amna Nawaz reports and talks to Surabhi Tandon, special correspondent for France 24, about how civilians are handling the situation and why there hasn’t been more resistance.
Hundreds of people protested the security crackdown and clashed with police in Indian-controlled Kashmir today.
At the same time, India's government said it was reviewing the situation there and would remove restrictions it had placed on the region two weeks ago, sparking the protest when it removed Kashmir's autonomous status.
Life in Kashmir has been paralyzed. Stores remain closed, and traffic along normally busy crossroads is thin. Under an unprecedented lockdown, nearly four million people in the Indian-administered part of the territory have been confined to their homes in a total communications blackout.
Busheer Ahmed (through translator):
As of now, everything is locked down. Whatever the government has done, it is not good. Everyone is under house arrest.
Tensions in the region have escalated since last week, when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stripped the primarily Muslim state of its semiautonomous status.
Kashmir is now in its 13th day under this crackdown, but authorities say they will soon allow schools and offices to reopen and phone service to be restored.
Telecom connectivity, which has been a point of sore concern, will be gradually eased and restored in a phased manner, keeping in mind the constant threat posed by terrorist organizations in using mobile connectivity to organize terror actions.
Despite the measures to prevent unrest, anger at India's government for revoking Kashmir's autonomy has fueled sporadic street protests and sometimes violent confrontations.
Control of Kashmir has been contested by India and Pakistan since the 1947 post-colonial partition that separated the two countries. The nuclear-armed neighbors each administer parts of the region separated by the line of control. The countries have already fought three times over Kashmir.
Now Prime Minister Modi has defended this takeover as a national security decision to quell attacks from separatist militants in Kashmir, which Pakistan has supported in the past.
But, on Twitter today, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called India's actions — quote — "fascist tactics" that will not — quote — "smother the Kashmiri liberation struggle."
Khan expressed his concerns with President Trump over a telephone call this morning. Mr. Trump said he would soon hold talks with Prime Minister Modi. Also today, at the request of Pakistan, the U.N. Security Council met behind closed doors to discuss Kashmir for the first time in more than 50 years. China's U.N. envoy urged both countries to avoid taking unilateral action over the region.
The tension is already very tense and very dangerous.
But India's ambassador to the U.N. called the situation an internal matter.
We don't need international busybodies to try and tell us how to run our lives.
For more on what things are like on the ground in Kashmir, we're joined by Surabhi Tandon. She's special correspondent for France 24, who just returned from a five-day trip there.
Surabhi, welcome to the "NewsHour."
Let's start with what you saw and heard from Kashmiris on the ground who are living through this lockdown.
Well, I was in Srinagar for about five days, and I tried to visit as many neighborhoods as possible.
Of course, the security situation sort of changed every day, in that the extent of the curfew-like situations were changing each day that I was there. But, for the most part, people in Srinagar, where I was, were under a fair amount of lockdown. Movement was restricted.
In fact, if you didn't have a curfew pass or a reason to go to the hospital or chemist, something that was urgent, you weren't really allowed to move around between neighborhoods. This is for civilians.
For journalists as well, we were guarded in most areas we went to. There were some no-go zones. Of course, I was also there during the time of Eid, which was this Monday. So, on Saturday, which was the 11th of August, the government did ease up restrictions.
They opened up some markets in parts of the city. And that's when you saw a fair amount of movement, people coming out, buying things in preparation for the festival, but also buying things to stock up, because nobody knows even at this point how long these curfew-like situations are going to last.
So, Surabhi, what was the reaction on the ground when India first made this move to revoke autonomy? A lot of people are wondering why we didn't see larger-scale protests.
Well, I would say, first of all, that's because not possible at the moment with this military presence that is in the valley.
Now, Kashmir is already one of the world's most militarized zones. And before the fifth of August, 45,000 extra troops were brought in. So that's almost one military personnel for 10 civilians.
So you see this military presence everywhere, and especially in areas that have frequent protests. They were such no-go zones that even we weren't allowed. There were giant vans that blockaded the roads. People were barely allowed to walk through, no cars, of course, no public transport going in.
There was one large protest on Friday, the day that I arrived, which has been reported by some media outlets, but the reason that these were contained is because of the heavy military presence that surrounds these neighborhoods.
Already, with these small protests, you had the military throwing in tear gases, in fact, also using pellet guns. This is happening on the ground.
When we talk about the future of Kashmir, we hear a lot from both leaders in India and Pakistan.
You have been talking to people on the ground on the Indian-administered side. What is it they say they want for their future?
In Kashmir, when you say what do people want in the future, well, first of all, they say — the people that I spoke to say that they don't agree with this decision, because they weren't included in the decision.
They feel that it's another decision made by the Indian state that has been forced on them. And as we have seen this resistance for many years in Kashmir, this resistance will continue.
And some, of course, said that now this resistance perhaps might even become more extreme. The people in the middle, their argument to stay in India, to be pro-India has suddenly become irrelevant.
And so a lot of people now perhaps feel that they are on one side, which is anti-being part of the Indian state. And what will happen, how this angle — and how this angle will erupt is to be seen.
That is Surabhi Tandon, special correspondent for France 24, reporting from New Delhi tonight.
Thank you very much.
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