Kashmir residents upset over highway closures

A soldier guarding Kashmir's Srinagar-Jammu highway on April 7. The government has banned civilian movement on the highway two days a week for the safe passage of Indian security convoys.
A soldier guarding Kashmir's Srinagar-Jammu highway on April 7. The government has banned civilian movement on the highway two days a week for the safe passage of Indian security convoys.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

The closure of a highway for two days a week so security forces in Kashmir can be moved around is attracting criticism, with local politicians calling it absurd.

Kashmir has been on edge since the killing of 40 paramilitary soldiers after a local youth in the Jaish-e-Mohammad movement drove a car into a convoy carrying soldiers of the Central Police Reserve Force on the national Srinagar-Jammu highway.

But the highway closures on Wednesday and Sunday for 12 hours each day have triggered much criticism as it is the only road connecting Kashmir to the rest of the country.

The 270km stretch is also a lifeline within the territory as it connects dozens of village and towns. The curbs remain until May 31.

Anantnag resident Danish Ali had to get special permission to travel on the highway for his wedding, said Indian media.

The local authorities also drew criticism after stamping and signing the right palm of a man, writing "allowed to Sangam", a place in Anantnag district, after running out of paper. A photo of the man's hand went viral on social media.

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted: "This is how permission is granted... to use their highway. Their hands are being stamped & written on. I'm just angry at the degrading, inhuman treatment being meted out to people."

INCONVENIENT AND UNFORTUNATE

Patients are facing a lot of inconvenience in reaching hospitals. Even though doctors have been exempted, there are long queues. What does a doctor do in that situation? This is an unfortunate decision.

DR NISAR UL HASSAN, of the Doctors Association Kashmir, on the impact of the partial ban on doctors and patients.

Locals said the highway ban was not just an inconvenience but also affected people who needed to get to a doctor in an emergency.

"Patients are facing a lot of inconvenience in reaching hospitals. Even though doctors have been exempted, there are long queues. What does a doctor do in that situation? This is an unfortunate decision," said Dr Nisar ul Hassan of the Doctors Association Kashmir.

Kashmir is at the heart of a conflict between India and Pakistan, which have gone to war three times over the territory.

There has been a deterioration of law and order in recent years with a terror attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri leading to the death of 19 soldiers in 2016.

Local parties Jammu and Kashmir People's Movement and the People's Democratic Party have both challenged the order in the high court, which is hearing the case.

The Indian Home Ministry said the road closure was a security measure, noting that "only reasonable restrictions have been imposed".

 
 

"This has been done to ensure safe movement of forces (while) minimising the inconvenience to public," it said in a statement.

But that has not calmed tempers in Kashmir, with former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti calling the ban "callous".

Some Twitter users wondered if the armed forces were there to protect people or they needed to be protected from the people of Kashmir.

Others reckoned it would deepen Kashmir's estrangement from the rest of the country.

"This is a ridiculous move. I think alienation (of the Kashmiri people) is a very mild word. The feeling is that the central (federal) government is not fond of Kashmir and its people," said Kashmir-based political analyst Siddiq Wahid.

Yet some security experts believe too much is being made out of the ban.

Dr Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, said: "People do not seem to recognise the degree of risk that the forces are being exposed to when there is massive movement. This is not a complete clampdown."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2019, with the headline 'Kashmir residents upset over highway closures'. Print Edition | Subscribe