India eases restrictions in Kashmir for Islamic festival

National News

Indian paramilitary soldiers guard as a Kashmiri livestock seller crosses a street ahead of Eid al Adha during a security lock down in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmiri, Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019. Authorities enforcing a strict curfew in Indian-administered Kashmir say they will bring in trucks of essential supplies for the Islamic festival next week, as the divided Himalayan region remained in a lockdown following India’s decision to strip it of its constitutional autonomy. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

NEW DELHI (AP) — Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir said they eased restrictions in the region’s main city for a third straight day on Sunday ahead of a major Islamic festival, following India’s move to strip the region of its constitutional autonomy and impose an indefinite curfew.

More than 250 ATMs were made functional in Srinagar and bank branches opened for people to withdraw money ahead of Monday’s Eid al-Adha festival, city administrator Shahid Choudhary said in a tweet.

There was no immediate independent confirmation of reports by authorities that people were visiting shopping areas for festival purchases, as all communications and the internet remained cut off for a seventh day.

The New Delhi Television News channel showed video of jeeps fitted with loudspeakers moving in the region after lunchtime, telling people to return to their homes and shopkeepers to shut markets. NDTV said the move may have been prompted by sporadic clashes that took place in Srinagar after the restrictions were relaxed on Saturday.

Authorities appear to be acting with utmost caution because of a fear of a backlash from residents who have been forced to stay indoors since last Monday. The restrictions were briefly eased for the first time on Friday, when residents were allowed to attend mosque prayers.

The predominantly Muslim area has been under the lockdown and near-total communications blackout to prevent unrest and protests after India’s Hindu nationalist-led government said last Monday that it was revoking Kashmir’s special constitutional status and downgrading its statehood. Thousands of Indian troops have been deployed to the area.

On Saturday, Rahul Gandhi, a leader of India’s main opposition Congress party, said there were reports of violence and “people dying” in the region. Talking to reporters in New Delhi, Gandhi said “things are going very wrong there,” and called for the Indian government to make clear what is happening.

Authorities in Srinagar said Saturday night that there had been instances of stone pelting by protesters but no gun firing by security forces in the past six days. Television images showed cars and people moving in some parts of Kashmir.

State-run All India Radio quoted the region’s top bureaucrat, Chief Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam, as saying that people were coming out of their homes for Eid shopping.

Junior Home Minister G. Kishan Reddy said he expected the situation in Kashmir to become “fully peaceful” in 10-15 days.

He said communication facilities would be restored in phases. “We have only taken precautionary measures with the view that even small incidents should not occur when a major decision has been made,” the Press Trust of India news agency quoted him as saying.

Reddy said there had been occasions in the past when a curfew had continued for weeks at a stretch, but there was no such expectation now.

On Thursday, Modi assured the people of Jammu and Kashmir, as the region is known, that normalcy would gradually return and that the government was ensuring that the current restrictions do not dampen the Islamic festival.

New Delhi rushed tens of thousands of additional soldiers to one of the world’s most militarized regions to prevent unrest and protests after Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government announced it was revoking Kashmir’s special constitutional status and downgrading its statehood. Modi said the move was necessary to free the region of “terrorism and separatism.”

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said Sunday on Twitter that India’s crackdown was an attempt to change the demographics of Kashmir by introducing Hindu supremacy to the Muslim-majority area. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi made similar comments a day earlier.

On Saturday, Pakistan said that with the support of China, it will take up India’s unilateral actions in Kashmir with the U.N. Security Council and may approach the U.N. Human Rights Commission over what it says is the “genocide” of the Kashmiri people.

Kashmir is claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan and is divided between the archrivals. Rebels have been fighting New Delhi’s rule for decades in the Indian-controlled portion, and most Kashmiri residents want either independence or a merger with Pakistan.

“When a demographic change is made through force, it’s called genocide, and you are moving toward genocide,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters in Islamabad after returning from Beijing.

With India moving to erase the constitutional provision that prohibited outsiders from buying property in Jammu and Kashmir state, Indians from the rest of the country can now purchase real estate and apply for government jobs there. Some fear this may lead to a demographic and cultural change in the Muslim-majority region.

Qureshi also said that while Pakistan is not planning to take any military action, it is ready to counter any potential aggression by India.

India’s ambassador to Pakistan, Ajay Bisaria, left Islamabad on Saturday night after Pakistan retaliated against India by lowering diplomatic ties. Fourteen other Indian mission officials and their families also left Islamabad, airport official Mohammad Wasim Ahmed said.

A regional political party from Kashmir petitioned the Supreme Court to strike down the government’s move to scrap the region’s special status and divide the state into two federal territories. An opposition Congress party activist has already filed a petition challenging the communications blockade and the detentions of Kashmiri leaders.

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Associated Press writer Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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