Restoring high-speed internet services in Indian Occupied Kashmir is seen as a step towards normalcy but freedoms of (political) expression and movement remain severely restricted
After a year and a half, India has restored high-speed internet services in Jammu and Kashmir, internationally recognised as disputed territory that has been under an Indian siege since August 2019.
The restoration of 4G internet services, according to human rights defenders, is a step forward towards normalcy and creating an enabling environment for progress towards normalcy. However, political expression remains obstructed.
India has revoked the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, divided it into two regions and made them federal territories. A complete lockdown and communications blackout in the wake of political reaction to this move in this disputed Muslim majority area followed. United Nations maintains that the final status of Jammu and Kashmir is to be settled by peaceful means in accordance with the UN charter and UN Security Council resolutions.
The Indian government’s decision to restore internet services comes after continuous criticism within the country and from abroad of suppression of basic rights and various freedoms in the Valley. The change is being seen in the context of the new US administration led by President Joe Biden raising the issue of human rights violations in India.
“We welcome the resumption of 4G mobile internet in India’s Jammu and Kashmir. This marks an important step for local residents and we look forward to continued political and economic progress to restore normalcy in J&K,” State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) stated after the development.
In Pakistan, many Kashmiris are relieved because of this development, thinking that they will be able to speak to their relatives in Indian Held Kashmir. They point out, however, that the freedoms of expression and movement are still denied. They believe that pressure from United Kingdom and United States of America to restore human rights and freedoms in the Valley has played a major role in the latest development.
Many say such measures are “initial practical steps” and not strategic actions to resolve the Kashmir dispute and improve the situation in the valley. They believe that unless complete normalcy is restored in Kashmir there will be no step that will aid the resolution of the dispute. Until and unless India stops undermining the cultural and political identity of the people of Kashmir; rolls back the legal steps that have changed social and political demography of the region; and takes steps to uphold the UN resolutions and bilateral engagements with Pakistan respectfully, the issue will remain unresolved. They say US and UK must pay serious attention to the real issue and should urge New Delhi to restore the autonomous status of Kashmir and respect the political opinion of the majority in the valley.
India suspended mobile internet services in the valley on August 4, 2019 in the wake of law-and-order situation after it changed the status of the valley. According to media reports, it restored 4G Internet services in two districts in August. The Indian Supreme Court had also taken up the matter and directed the Indian government to restore internet services.
The mainstream political leadership, that has been opposing India’s move to change the demographic of the region, however, is still either in prison or under house arrest.
Earlier, the US State Department advised that India respect freedom of (political) expression in Kashmir and lift the ban on internet communication services.
“Indian government should lift the internet blockade in the region and freedom of expression must be respected and protected in the valley,” a spokesperson of US State Department Zed Tarar in Dubai told Geo News. The spokesperson also said that Pakistan and India should work towards a reduction of tensions along the Line of Control (LoC) and start a dialogue on Kashmir issue.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres had earlier urged India and Pakistan to “come together and seriously discuss their problems” including the issue of Kashmir. The UN secretary general had added that it was essential that human rights were fully respected in the valley.
On February 5, the New York State Assembly adopted a resolution marking February 5, 2021, as Kashmir-American Day. The resolution appreciated “the courage and perseverance of the Kashmiri people and recognised their unique cultural and religious identity. The resolution also raised a voice for freedoms of religion, movement and expression for all Kashmiri people.
Prime Minister Imran Khan reminded the United Nations on the day that it “had failed to provide the promised right to the people of Kashmir to determine their own future.”
Pakistan reiterated its disappointment that the US Department of State’s tweet did not refer to Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir as a ‘disputed region’. A Foreign Office spokesperson stated that the reference was inconsistent with the disputed status of Jammu and Kashmir as recognised by numerous United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions and the international community.
He further stated that the international community, including the United States, must urge India to stop its continued and systematic human rights violations in IIOJK—including “arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, incarceration of political leaders, ongoing efforts to change the demographic structure of the occupied territory, extra-judicial killings of Kashmiris in fake encounters, and staged cordon-and-search operations” and take “genuine steps to resolve the dispute in a peaceful manner in accordance with the relevant UNSC resolutions”.
The author is a staff reporter. [email protected]