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Sunday 18 August 2019

Indian parliament expected to ratify bill to split Kashmir

A security lockdown is under way in the disputed Himalayan region amid heightened tensions.

Pakistanis burn a representation of an Indian flag and a poster of Indian PM Narendra Modi (AP)
Pakistanis burn a representation of an Indian flag and a poster of Indian PM Narendra Modi (AP)

By Emily Schmall

Indian MPs are set to ratify a bill downgrading the governance of the Indian-administered portion of Kashmir as an indefinite security lockdown continues in the disputed Himalayan region.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government submitted the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill for a vote a day after the measure was introduced.

The move came alongside a presidential order dissolving a constitutional provision that gave Kashmiris exclusive hereditary rights and a separate constitution.

The situation in Muslim-majority Kashmir is unclear after the government shut off most communications with it, including the internet, mobile phone and landline networks. Thousands of troops have been deployed to the region amid fears the government’s steps could spark unrest.

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Indian police divert traffic in Jammu, India (AP)

Indian TV news channels showed security personnel including armed soldiers standing near barbed wire barricades in the otherwise empty streets of Srinagar, Kashmir’s main city.

Jammu and Kashmir director general of police Dilbagh Singh said Srinagar is “totally peaceful”, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

The lower house of the Indian parliament is expected to easily ratify the bill downgrading Kashmir from a state to a union territory with a legislature and carving out Buddhist-majority Ladakh, a pristine, sparsely populated area that stretches from the Siachen Glacier to the Himalayas, as a separate union territory without a legislature.

Parliament’s upper house approved the bill by a two-thirds majority, with many opposition MPs voting with the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

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An Indian paramilitary soldier guards during security lockdown in Jammu (AP)

Residents of Ladakh, many of whom had been asking for union territory status, also reported intermittent communication blocks.

Tensions also have soared along the Line of Control, the volatile, highly militarised frontier that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, which both claim the entire region.

Pakistani president Arif Alvi convened his country’s parliament to discuss India’s actions. The foreign minister earlier denounced the Indian measures and appealed to the United Nations in a letter to send a fact-finding mission to the region.

The parliament in Pakistan is expected to unanimously adopt a resolution later on Tuesday rejecting the revocation of Indian-controlled Kashmir’s special status despite objections from opposition MPs that the resolution had not originally appeared on the agenda, forcing the speaker to briefly adjourn the meeting.

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Right wing Hindu groups distribute sweets as they celebrate Indian government revoking Kashmir’s special constitutional status in New Delhi (AP)

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s top military commanders are meeting in the garrison city of Rawalpindi to discuss the changes in Kashmir.

The Pakistani military remains on high alert following reports that New Delhi was continuing to dispatch additional troops to the region.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged all parties to show restraint.

His spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “We are following with concern the tense situation in the region.

“We’re also aware of reports of restrictions on the Indian side of Kashmir, and we urge all parties to exercise restraint.”

PA Media

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