India eases cellphone shutdown in Kashmir

SRINAGAR • The Indian government yesterday said it would unblock most mobile telephone lines in Kashmir in a major easing of a two-month-old security clampdown since cancelling the region's autonomy, but a grenade attack in the main city highlighted tensions over New Delhi's actions.

Police said militants threw a grenade in a market area near the old town in Srinagar injuring seven people.

Most stores, schools and businesses across Kashmir have been closed since the Hindu nationalist government brought the region under tighter central control on Aug 5.

But the easing of the communications blockade is the latest bid by the authorities to show that its tough policies were working.

Government spokesman Rohit Kansal told a press conference in Srinagar yesterday, just before the grenade blast, that the authorities had decided to end the phone blockade after a security review in the Muslim-majority Himalayan region. All phones linked to a monthly subscription "will stand restored and be functional from noon on Monday", he said, adding that the measure would apply to all of Kashmir.

The New Delhi government imposed a mobile phone and Internet blackout as part of a huge security clampdown to back its annulment of Kashmir's constitutionally guaranteed autonomy.

Tens of thousands of extra troops were also deployed in an operation that critics said virtually cut off Kashmir from the outside world.

Mr Kansal said restrictions on public movement had been lifted in "99 per cent" of Kashmir but gave no indication on whether Internet services would also be restored.

The government last Thursday lifted restrictions on tourists travelling to the region.

 
 

Ms Iltija Mufti, a daughter of Kashmir's former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, said international pressure has forced the government's hand but the response is "very little, very late".

The phone clampdown caused much hardship, say activists and community leaders. It meant ambulances and other emergency services could not be called to take patients to hospitals.

Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947. The two countries have fought two wars over the territory and cross-border clashes regularly erupt.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 13, 2019, with the headline 'India eases cellphone shutdown in Kashmir'. Print Edition | Subscribe