Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

Srinagar shut for India’s opposition too

Top Story

August 25, 2019

Rahul Gandhi talks to media after being denied entry into Occupied Kashmir.

NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD: Indian opposition leaders led by former Congress president Rahul Gandhi were barred from leaving the airport on Saturday in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK), where local authorities had warned that their visit could stoke heightened tension in the region.

The IHK government said the political leaders had been asked not to visit Srinagar as the administration works to restore order after weeks of protests against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Aug 5 decision to withdraw autonomy for the disputed region. Rejecting the warning, the delegation of opposition leaders from parties including Congress, the Communist Party and the All India Trinamool Congress said they wanted to assess the situation in the valley, and flew from New Delhi on Saturday.

“If the situation is normal then why is the government restricting us from entering the valley? On the one hand the government says that things are normal and on the other they impose entry restrictions. I have never seen so many contradictions?” senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad told reporters before departing. When their plane arrived in Srinagar, the politicians were not allowed to leave the airport and were sent back within a few hours.

Earlier in the day, the administration in IHK had booked a return flight to New Delhi for the opposition leaders to prevent them from leaving the airport. Tension remains high in IHK, with security forces using teargas against stone-throwing protesters in Srinagar on Friday, after a third straight week of protests in the restive Soura district despite the imposition of tight restrictions. The valley has been under lockdown since Modi’s decision to withdraw special rights for the Muslim-majority IHK.

It was the second time that senior opposition figures were denied entry to IHK since Modi’s Aug 5 announcement. Communist party leaders were stopped at the Srinagar airport during their first visit. Meanwhile, the Congress tweeted that the visit led by Rahul Gandhi was "an attempt to review the reality in the region after the abrogation of Article 370". The party condemned the BJP government's move to prevent opposition leaders from visiting IHK, asking on Twitter why the delegation was sent back if, according to the government, the situation in the valley was normal. "What is the Modi govt trying to hide?" it further questioned.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres discussed on telephone the risks and dangers to regional peace and security arising from the deteriorating human rights situation in IHK. The UN secretary general is in France attending the G7 Summit and this is the fourth time that the foreign minister has contacted Guterres about Pakistan’s serious concern over this humanitarian crisis.

Qureshi said that Guterres gave him a very patient hearing and assured him that he would speak to India's Modi and discuss the issues that were discussed during the telephone conversation. Guterres told Qureshi he had offered to play a role in the past and is ready today too to defuse the situation but "India had not been forthcoming". “After listening to my views and concerns, the UN chief said he would continue his efforts and convey our concerns to the world. He said he had briefed the UNSC members over human rights violations in IHK. He said all members desired peaceful resolution of the issue. We also desire the same solution, but for the last 20 days, there’s a lock down in the valley in gross human rights violations,” said the foreign minister.

Pakistan says that the situation demands the UN chief to visit South Asia and especially the whole region of Kashmir on both sides of the LoC despite his tight schedule, so he can witness the situation on the ground and inform the world about it. “I urged the UN to step forward immediately and play its role in protecting lives of innocent Kashmiris on war footing,” the minister told the media at the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office said that the phone call was in line with the continuing diplomatic outreach that Qureshi has been having with important world capitals. “Secretary General Guterres said that he was closely monitoring the situation and would remain engaged on the evolving developments,” the Foreign Office said.

Qureshi said he informed the secretary general that the United Nations should take serious notice of the deteriorating human rights situation in IHK and play its role in lifting curfew and other restrictions Kashmiris are facing for the last 20 days. “The UNSC resolutions entice you to act at the earliest. I also asked the UN chief to play his role in removing curfew in Kashmir and apprise the P5 members over the whole situation,” added the minister.

Commenting on attempts made by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and nine other opposition leaders to reach out to Kashmiris but were not allowed by the Indian government, the minister said “the world has today witnessed the fascist Modi government’s real face”. “India stands divided as shown by Modi government’s move of sending Congress leader Rahul Gandhi back from Srinagar airport in the next flight to Delhi.

I call upon democratic nations of the world to view that footage. When they treat their own this way, what expectation can we had when we are told to hold a dialogue with them?" asked Qureshi.

The minister said that he invited the secretary general to visit Azad Kashmir and he would be able to travel wherever he wanted. "And in this situation in which facts are being hidden and twisted, he himself should demand he be allowed to visit Indian Held Kashmir, so that he can see the situation for himself, present the facts to the world and play his role in averting a humanitarian crisis,” added the minister. The secretary general was advised that given his organisation's efforts which have always prioritised preventive measures in a conflict, and as there is a humanitarian crisis in the making, and given the threat in terms of peace and security, his organisation should move forth immediately.

Qureshi said he presented the following requests to the UN chief:

1. United Nations must play its role for the safety of the lives of the Kashmiris.

2. Your Security Council's resolution obliges you to stand as an obstacle in the face of demographic changes.

3. We hope that the United Nations will expedite its efforts towards the lifting of the curfew in IHK.

4. Your words have weight, kindly do the following: The P5 leadership must be informed of the sensitivity of the situation and whether or not the Security Council convenes a session, do keep on briefing them because they should know what the situation is leaning towards as it evolves.

5. The oppressed and unarmed Kashmiris, their hungry children, and their fearful parents expect that the United Nations Human Rights division will continue to play a lead role in highlighting the situation.

6. The Kashmiris await justice. They look to the international community with patience and hope it has their back. If it lets them down they will have no choice but to make use of whatever option is available to resist this sort of highhandedness, this undemocratic order and these inhuman actions.

Putting forth the Pakistan government’s stand, the minister told the UN secretary general that all political opinion has rejected the August 5 action which stripped IHK of its autonomy. Qureshi said he also thanked the United Nations for convening the UNSC session. "With the closed-door meeting the message we got was that it is the wish of all members that the matter be resolved peacefully," he said.

With coverage of IHK becoming difficult by the day, the minister pointed to those that despite great difficulties still manage to cover the scenes. “I salute those who capture scenes in IHK through their mobile phone so the world knows what’s happening in the occupied valley,” he said.