New Delhi: On the day that Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke his silence on Kashmir and the government agreed to a discussion in the Rajya Sabha, Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar has increased bilateral tension by summoning Abdul Basit, the Pakistan high commissioner over a Pakistani operative of Lashkar-e-Taiba who was arrested in Kashmir.
The demarche issued by India stated that 21-year-old Bahadur Ali, a resident of village Jia Bagga, was arrested on July 25 “together with weapons (AK-47 rifle, live rounds, grenades, grenade launcher, etc.) and also sophisticated communication equipment and other material of Pakistani/international origin”.
“Bahadur Ali has confessed to our authorities that after training in Lashkar-e-Toiba camps, he was infiltrated into India. He was thereafter in touch with an ‘operations room’ of LeT, receiving instructions to attack Indian security personnel and carry out other terrorist attacks in India,” it said.
India “strong[ly] protests against the continued infiltration from Pakistan of trained terrorists with instructions to carry out attacks”, which is “contrary to assurances given by the Pakistani leaders at the highest level”, Jaishankar conveyed to Basit.
The demarche also included a letter addressed by Bahadur Ali to the Pakistan high commissioner asking for legal aid as well as assistance to enable him to meet his family.
“We are prepared to grant the Pakistan High Commission consular access to Bahadur Ali,” India added.
Last month on July 11, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary, Pakistan’s foreign secretary summoned the Indian envoy Gautam Bambawale to express “serious concerns over the recent killings of Kashmiri leader Burhan Wani and many other civilians in Kashmir by the Indian military and paramilitary forces.” India “rejected” Pakistan’s demarche.
First remarks on Kashmir
Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his first remarks on the situation in Kashmir today since the state plunged into turmoil a month ago. Speaking at a rally in Madhya Pradesh, he said, “Every Indian loves Kashmir”, adding “the azaadi (freedom) that every Indian feels, Kashmir can feel too”, according to a report from PTI.
He also appeared to heed Jammu and Kashmir’s chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s advice from earlier today and invoked former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. PTI reported an excerpt from the speech, “When Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister he had adopted the path of insaniyat, jamhuriyat and Kashmiriyat and we walk the same road. I want to tell the brothers and sisters of Kashmir from this great birthplace of Chandra Shekhar Azad that Kashmir has the same strength that has been given to (other parts of) India by our freedom fighters. Kashmir has the same freedom that every Indian feels.”
This morning Mufti advised Prime Minister Narendra Modi to emulate Atal Bihari Vajpayee and “win the hearts” of Kashmiris. Mufti was in Delhi to discuss the situation in Kashmir as curfews and protests continue to plague the region.
After meeting with home minister Rajnath Singh for over two hours, Mufti told reporters, “I am hopeful that the Prime Minister will take this as an opportunity to initiate dialogue with people in Jammu and Kashmir to address their problems. There is a need to take the same initiative of winning hearts of people, which was taken during (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee ji’s tenure,” the Economic Times reported.
Defence minister Manohar Parikar, national security advisor A.K. Doval and other senior members from the home, defence and finance ministries also attended the meeting with Singh and Mufti.
Mufti’s advice for placating the people of Kashmir is in stark contrast to statements made on Monday by the BJP’s spokesperson in Kashmir, Virender Gupta who said the government is left with no choice but to deal with the unrest with an “iron hand”. He added that the government has to take hard measures against the separatists and terrorists “supported by Pakistan” or else the situation will continue to deteriorate and make it impossible to restore normalcy in the state, according to an NDTV report.
Ghulam Nabi Azad, the leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, also raised the issue of restoring normalcy in Kashmir during Zero Hour on Monday. He questioned the lack of response from the central government, “In such circumstances, we want to awaken the government … We feel the government and the Prime Minister are watching the situation deteriorate like a silent spectator,” he said, the Economic Times reported.
Protests and Pellets
Kashmir has been under curfew for an unprecedented 31 days since Burhan Wani, a Hizbul Mujahideen commander, was shot by India forces on July 8. His death prompted some of the largest protests the state has seen in years. Over 55 civilians have been killed and thousands injured in the past month.
Inspector-general Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that over a thousand people had been arrested in the last two weeks in an effort to curb the protests. Monday saw “tens of thousands of troops” patrolling Kashmiri streets ringed with barbed wire to ensure curfew was followed by citizens; even shops and schools were closed due to security concerns and a separatist-sponsored strike, added the report.
Meanwhile, Indian forces continue to use pellet guns against protesting civilians despite warnings from the government. On Monday, a 17-year-old student, Amir Bashir Lone from Shopian district, became the 58th casualty in the past month. He succumbed to injuries incurred from pellet guns fired into his head which “damaged the brain severely”, hospital sources told the Hindu.
Lone is the third fatality from the use of pellet guns since they were introduced in Kashmir in 2010. Riyaz Ahmad Shah who was 21 years old and one of the three fatalities, died after he received over 300 pellets inside his body, which affected all his vital organs and shredded his abdomen completely. Another victim, Danish Rasool, a Class 12 student, died “after pellets were fired at the neck from a very close range” in Sopore on August 5, according to the report by the Hindu. Doctors told the paper that pellet guns fired at close range caused serious damage to the victims’ organs resulting in their deaths and that these victims were shot from “a very very close range with the intention to kill.”
“Figures at the Valley’s premier SMHS hospital paint a grim picture. Of 933 pellet cases, 356 suffered eye injuries and 324 extra-ocular injuries. Similarly, the hospital treated 67 bullet injury cases. Non-lethal tear-smoke shell injuries are less at 35.” the report added.
Seven civilians, including four women, suffered non-lethal injuries from pellet guns during Monday’s protest in Bijbehara, Anantnag district. “One victim, Ruby Jan, has pellet injuries in head and face; Tawseef Ahmed in both eyes; Haseena Akhtar in both; Reena Jan in right arm and back; Adil Ahmed in back; Jameela Bano in right eye and Firdous Ahmed in face and leg,” local hospital sources told the Hindu.
Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) criticised pellet guns and told Al Jazeera, “The prime minister’s silence is sending a message that this government does not care”.
Three border guards and a person suspected to be a militant were killed in an exchange of fire at the Line of Control, in Kupwara district, on Monday. The militants who attacked the guards were reportedly members of Hizbul Mujahideen.
Nitin N Joshi, a senior army officer, told Al Jazeera that it was unclear if the suspected rebel had entered India from the Pakistan-controlled portion Kashmir.
Modi finally responded to calls for an official response and addressed the unrest in his speech today, “Today, one feels pained to see that innocent youths have been handed stones. Politics of some people is clicking but what will happen to these gullible and simple youths. Humanity and Kashmiriyat will not be allowed to be hit. The path of democracy and dialogue is there,” he told a public meeting here, the birthplace of Azad”, PTI reported.