Uneasy calm in Indian Kashmir on 2nd anniversary of loss of autonomy

A Special Operations Group officer checking the bag of a man in Srinagar on Aug 4, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

SRINAGAR, INDIA (REUTERS) - Troops patrolled the streets on Thursday (Aug 5) in Srinagar, the main city of Indian Kashmir, where many shops were shut to mark the second year since the Himalayan region was stripped of its autonomy.

In 2019, in an effort to bind the restive region closer to the rest of India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government withdrew longstanding constitutional privileges accorded to the country's only Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The measure also split the state into two federal territories, including the remote Buddhist-dominated Ladakh region, which further angered Kashmiris.

Troops manned checkpoints in parts of Srinagar, which has been a hotbed of separatist activity, carrying out security checks on people and vehicles, witnesses said.

However, Kashmir police chief Vijay Kumar told Reuters that no extra security measures had been taken, adding that conditions were normal, including Internet links, often severed in the past to forestall protests.

"But our surveillance system has been increased," he added, without giving details.

Militants have battled India's rule in Kashmir for more than three decades, a revolt it blames Pakistan for stoking.

Islamabad denies this, saying it provides only moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people.

In Pakistan's capital of Islamabad, President Arif Alvi led a solidarity rally outside Parliament House and demanded that India restore Kashmiris' rights.

"I warn India not to play with fire and (to) give Kashmiris their due rights... pledged by the United Nations," he said.

A grouping of political parties in Kashmir, the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, said it would keep up its struggle for restoration of partial autonomy.

However, a minister in Mr Modi's office, Mr Jitendra Singh, said Kashmir was better off fully integrated with India, where its special laws had resulted in an unhealthy divide.

"Today, such distinctions are history," he wrote in the Indian Express newspaper.

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