Archive for ‘Kashmir’

12/05/2019

Indians vote in penultimate phase of seven-round general election

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Voters in north India lined up early on Sunday to cast their ballots in the second-to-last round of a seven-phase general election, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi facing a diverse group of opposition parties seeking to deny him a second term.

More than 100 million people across seven states are eligible to vote in the sixth phase of the 39-day-long poll, which Modi began on April 11 as front-runner after an escalation of tension with neighbouring Pakistan.

But opposition parties have recently taken heart at what they see as signs Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may be losing ground and have begun negotiations over a post-election alliance even before polling ends on May 19. Votes will be counted on May 23.

The president of the main opposition Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, said the main issues in the election were unemployment, distress in the countryside, the demonetisation of bank notes and a new sales tax.

“It was a good fight,” Gandhi said after he cast his vote.

“Narendra Modi used hatred, we used love. And I think love is going to win.”

A lack of new jobs – despite annual economic growth of about 7% – and the plight of farmers struggling with falling crop prices have been major worries for voters.

A new good and services tax (GST), as well as Modi’s shock ban on all high-value currency notes in 2016, hurt small and medium businesses.

Some voters in the capital, New Delhi, said they were backing Modi because they were won over by his tough stand on security.

Indian warplanes attacked what the government said was a terrorist training camp in Pakistan in February, soon after a suicide car bomb attack in the disputed Kashmir region killed 40 police officers.

BIG CHANCE FOR SMALL PARTIES?

The aggressive response stirred nationalist passions that pollsters said could favour Modi in the election.

“I have voted for Modi’s sound foreign policy and national security,” said a 36-year-old first-time voter who declined to be identified.

“The demonetisation has affected jobs growth but over time, the positive effects of GST and demonetisation would take care of jobs,” he said.

But concern about unemployment and crop prices have put the BJP on the back foot, and the opposition has in recent days felt more upbeat about its chances.

Political analysts say state-based and caste-driven parties could be decisive in determining the make-up of the next government.

“Regional parties will play a bigger role compared to the previous 5 years or even 15 years,” said K.C. Suri, a political science professor at the University of Hyderabad. “They will regain their importance in national politics.”

Recent weeks have also been marked by personal attacks between leaders, including comments from Modi about the family of Congress President Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty.

At a recent rally Modi called Gandhi’s late father, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, “corrupt no. 1”. The BJP says Modi was reacting to Rahul Gandhi calling him a thief.

“The political vitriolic has become intense, and negatively intense,” said Ashok Acharya, a political science professor at the University of Delhi.

“It seems as if this particular election is all about a few political personalities. It is not about issues, any kind of an agenda.”

Source: Reuters

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11/05/2019

Islamic State claims ‘province’ in India for first time after clash in Kashmir

NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – Islamic State (IS) claimed for the first time that it has established a “province” in India, after a clash between militants and security forces in the contested Kashmir region killed a militant with alleged ties to the group.

IS’s Amaq News Agency late on Friday announced the new province, that it called “Wilayah of Hind”, in a statement that also claimed IS inflicted casualties on Indian army soldiers in the town of Amshipora in the Shopian district of Kashmir.

The IS statement corresponds with an Indian police statement on Friday that a militant called Ishfaq Ahmad Sofi was killed in an encounter in Shopian.

IS’s statement establishing the new province appears to be designed to bolster its standing after the group was driven from its self-styled “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria in April, where at one point it controlled thousands of miles of territory.

IS has stepped up hit-and-run raids and suicide attacks, including taking responsibility for the Easter Sunday bombing in Sri Lanka that killed at least 253 people.

“The establishment of a ‘province’ in a region where it has nothing resembling actual governance is absurd, but it should not be written off,” said Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intel Group that tracks Islamic extremists.

“The world may roll its eyes at these developments, but to jihadists in these vulnerable regions, these are significant gestures to help lay the groundwork in rebuilding the map of the IS ‘caliphate’.”

Sofi had been involved in several militant groups in Kashmir for more than a decade before pledging allegiance to Islamic State, according to a military official on Saturday and an interview given by Sofi to a Srinagar-based magazine sympathetic to IS.

He was suspected of several grenade attacks on security forces in the region, police and military sources said.

“It was a clean operation and no collateral damage took place during the exchange of fire,” a police spokesman said in the statement on Friday’s encounter.

The military official said it was possible that Sofi had been the only militant left in Kashmir associated with IS.

Separatists have for decades fought an armed conflict against Indian rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir. The majority of these groups want independence for Kashmir or to join India’s arch-rival Pakistan. They have not, like Islamic State, sought to establish an empire across the Muslim world.

Nuclear powers India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir, and came to the brink of a third earlier this year after a suicide attack by a Pakistan-based militant group killed at least 40 paramilitary police in the Indian-controlled portion of the region.

A spokesman for India’s home ministry, which is responsible for security in Kashmir, did not respond to a request for comment.

Source: Reuters

29/04/2019

Police break up clashes in West Bengal, Mumbai votes in fourth phase of massive poll

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Police broke up clashes between rival groups of voters in West Bengal on Monday as some of India’s richest families and Bollywood stars also cast their ballots in Mumbai during the fourth phase of a massive, staggered general election.

In West Bengal, a populous eastern state crucial for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election bid, supporters of his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) clashed with others from the regional Trinamool Congress, police said.

TV footage showed armed security forces chasing away people wielding sticks, although it was initially difficult to determine the scale of the clashes.

There were no immediate reports of any poll-related injuries in West Bengal, where at least one person was killed and three injured during the third phase of voting last week.

The BJP is in a direct, and sometimes bloody, fight in West Bengal with Trinamool, whose chief Mamata Banerjee is one of Modi’s biggest critics and a potential prime ministerial candidate.

More than 127 million people are eligible to vote in this round of the seven-phase election held across 71 seats in nine states. Modi’s coalition won more than 75 percent of the seats in the previous election in 2014.

Many of the constituencies are in Uttar Pradesh in the north and western India’s Maharashtra, where the financial capital Mumbai is located. Uttar Pradesh elects the most lawmakers, with Maharashtra next. Both states are ruled by the BJP and its allies.
However, political analysts say the BJP may struggle to repeat its strong showing this time due mainly to a jobs shortage and weak farm prices, issues upon which the main opposition Congress party has seized.

‘SOME PROGRESS’

First-time voter Ankita Bhavke, a college student in Mumbai, said she voted for economic development.

“I want the country to be at par with the best in the world,” she said. “There’s been some progress in the last five years.”

India’s financial markets were closed on Monday for the election.

Mumbai is home to the massive Hindi film industry, as well as Asia’s wealthiest man, Mukesh Ambani, and India’s richest banker, Uday Kotak.
Ambani, who heads Reliance Industries, and Kotak, managing director of Kotak Mahindra Bank, created a stir this month by publicly endorsing an opposition Congress party candidate from their upscale South Mumbai constituency.
Mumbai, which has six seats, is India’s wealthiest city but ageing and insufficient infrastructure is a major concern. Six people were killed last month when part of a pedestrian bridge collapsed, recalling memories of a 2017 rush-hour stampede that killed at least 22 people on a narrow pedestrian bridge.
The election, the world’s biggest democratic exercise with about 900 million voters, started on April 11 with Modi in the lead amid heightened tension with long-time enemy Pakistan.
The last phase of voting is on May 19, with results released four days later.
There are a total of 545 seats in the Lok Sabha.
Modi sent warplanes into Pakistan in late February in response to a suicide attack by an Islamist militant group based there that killed 40 Indian police in the disputed Kashmir region.
Modi has sought votes on his tough response towards militancy and in recent days has evoked the deadly Easter Sunday bombings in nearby Sri Lanka.
Maidul Islam, a professor of political science at Kolkata’s Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, said long queues outside polling stations would indicate whether Modi’s national security pitch was working.
“Whenever there is a BJP kind of a wave, you see a higher voter turnout,” he said.
Source: Reuters
20/04/2019

Indian foreign secretary heads to China for talks amid tense relations

  • Vijay Keshav Gokhale is expected to meet Chinese deputy foreign minister Kong Xuanyou and Foreign Minister Wang Yi during two-day visit
  • Beijing’s refusal to sanction a Pakistani militant leader and its belt and road push in the disputed Kashmir region have strained ties
Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Keshav Gokhale will visit China as part of “regular exchanges” between the two countries. Photo: AFP
Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Keshav Gokhale will visit China as part of “regular exchanges” between the two countries. Photo: AFP
Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Keshav Gokhale will travel to Beijing on Sunday amid tensions between India and China over Beijing’s refusal to sanction a Pakistani militant leader and its infrastructure push in the disputed Kashmir region.
Gokhale’s two-day visit is part of “regular exchanges” between the two nations, the Indian embassy in Beijing said on Saturday.
During his stay, Gokhale is expected to meet Chinese deputy foreign minister Kong Xuanyou and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

He will return to India on Monday, three days before the second Belt and Road Forum begins in the Chinese capital. Forty foreign leaders will attend the summit on Beijing’s global trade and infrastructure scheme, the “Belt and Road Initiative”, but India is not taking part.

Wang on Friday called on India, and other countries sceptical of the initiative, to join up, dismissing claims that it is a geopolitical tool. He also said China was ready to hold a leaders’ summit with India like the informal meeting held between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Wuhan, Hubei province last year.

A summit between Xi Jinping (left) and Narendra Modi in Wuhan last year was seen as a breakthrough in China-India relations after the Doklam border dispute. Photo: AFP
A summit between Xi Jinping (left) and Narendra Modi in Wuhan last year was seen as a breakthrough in China-India relations after the Doklam border dispute. Photo: AFP

Gokhale visited Beijing in February last year, and the Wuhan summit happened two months later. That meeting was seen as a breakthrough in the

China-India relationship

after a 73-day military stand-off over the Doklam plateau.

But the progress was overshadowed in February after a terror strike on Indian security forces in the Jammu and Kashmir province, which killed 40 Indian soldiers. The Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed group claimed responsibility for the attack. India has long wanted to designate its leader, Masood Azhar, as a terrorist under international law, but China has opposed the move.

During a visit to Pakistan in March, Kong said Beijing and Islamabad were all-weather strategic partners and would support each other on issues to do with their core interests.

What ‘Wuhan spirit’? Kashmir suicide attack reopens Modi’s China wound

Wang Dehua, head of the Institute for South and Central Asia Studies at the Shanghai Municipal Centre for International Studies, said China and India were looking to prevent their bilateral relations from deteriorating further.

“Both nations will elaborate on their stance on this matter, and China will probably deliver a message that the China-India relationship should not be affected by the dispute over Masood Azhar,” he said. “The positive sentiment out of Wuhan has been affected, and the two sides are seeking ways to continue the spirit of that informal summit.”

Du Youkang, director of Fudan University’s Pakistan Study Centre in Shanghai, said preparations for another informal summit of the nations’ leaders would only begin after India’s general election was over. Polling is being held in seven phases ending on May 19.

Gokhale’s trip would mainly be a chance to see how the two nations can push forward bilateral ties amid their disputes, Du said.

In addition to Azhar, India is also dismayed that some of China’s belt and road projects pass through the Pakistan-administered section of the disputed Kashmir region.

But Wang told reporters on Friday that the initiative did not target any third country, and that relations between China and India had improved after the Wuhan summit.

Source: SCMP

08/04/2019

BJP vows to strip Kashmir of special rights

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s Hindu nationalist ruling party vowed on Monday to strip decades-old special rights from the people of Jammu and Kashmir, making an election promise that could provoke a backlash in the country’s only Muslim-majority state.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)is widely expected to retain power after a general election that starts on Thursday, though with a much smaller mandate, hit by concerns over a shortage of jobs and weak farm prices.

Pollsters say its re-election campaign got a boost from recent hostilities with arch-rival Pakistan, after a militant group based there claimed a February suicide bombing that killed 40 Indian security forces in the Himalayan region.

“Nationalism is our inspiration,” Modi said after releasing the BJP’s election manifesto at its headquarters in New Delhi, as supporters chanted “Modi, Modi”.

The BJP has consistently advocated an end to Kashmir’s special constitutional status, which prevents outsiders from buying property there, arguing that such laws have hindered its integration with the rest of India.

“We believe that Article 35A is an obstacle in the development of the state,” the party said, referring to a constitutional provision dating from 1954, and reiterated its long-held desire to abolish Kashmir’s autonomous status by scrapping another law known as Article 370.

BJP supporters have demanded the removal, expressing anger at many Kashmiris’ resistance to rule by India, which has spent three decades battling an armed insurgency in the region also claimed by Pakistan.

“The BJP’s campaign is largely around nationalism, national security and this is what is getting echoed in their manifesto,” said Sanjay Kumar, director of thinktank the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

Repeal would bring widespread unrest, Kashmiri political leaders warned.

“Let them do it and it will pave the way for our azadi,” Farooq Abdullah, president of Kashmir’s National Conference party, told an election rally, referring to freedom for the region. “They are wrong. We will fight against it.”

Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, the leader of a left party in Kashmir, warned of “disastrous and unimaginable repercussions”.

Voting in the general election reut.rs/2KhaQlG begins on Thursday, but with about 900 million eligible voters, will be spread across several weeks, with ballots counted on May 23.

INCREASED INVESTMENT, TAX REFORM

In its manifesto last week, the main opposition Congress party pledged to create more jobs, hand money to India’s poorest and change a law on special powers for troops in Kashmir.

It dismissed the BJP manifesto as anti-farmer, despite its pledge of a pension scheme for small and marginal farmers who make up more than 80 percent of India’s estimated 263 million farmers, with landholdings smaller than 2 hectares (5 acres).

“Remember the good old days before 2014 when Indians had jobs and a PM that didn’t lie to them,” Congress said on Twitter, with a hashtag calling the BJP manifesto a gimmick.

The BJP also promised capital investment of 100 trillion rupees ($1.44 trillion) in infrastructure by 2024, to help create jobs for millions entering the workforce each year.

It pledged to simplify the goods and services tax, which disrupted businesses and hurt growth when Modi introduced it in 2017.

The party will work to cut tax and boost credit to small businesses to 1 trillion rupees ($14.4 billion) by 2024, it added.

Source: Reuters

07/04/2019

Pakistan says India preparing another attack this month

KARACHI (Reuters) – Pakistan has “reliable intelligence” that India will attack again this month, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Sunday, as tension over a February standoff between the two nuclear-armed neighbours had appeared to ease.

The attack could take place between April 16 and 20, he said, adding that Pakistan had told the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council of its concerns.

A suicide car bombing by Pakistan-based militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police on Feb. 14 and the risk of conflict rose dramatically on Feb. 27, when India launched an air strike on what it said was a militant training base.

The following day Pakistan shot down an Indian fighter jet and captured its pilot who was later released.

“We have reliable intelligence that India is planning a new attack on Pakistan. As per our information this could take place between April 16 and 20,” Qureshi told reporters in his hometown of Multan.

He did not elaborate on what evidence Pakistan had or how he could be so specific with the timing, but he said Prime Minister Imran Khan had agreed to share the information with the country.

India’s foreign office didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Khan blamed India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for “whipping up war hysteria” over claims that India shot down a Pakistani F-16 during the February standoff.

India said it, too, had shot down a Pakistani aircraft and the air force displayed pieces of a missile that it said had been fired by a Pakistani F-16 before it went down.
The success of Indian air strikes on a camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group in northwestern Pakistan has also been thrown into doubt after satellite images showed little sign of damage.
Pakistan closed its airspace amid the standoff but most commercial air traffic has since resumed and major airports have opened.
Source: reuters
06/04/2019

Pakistan PM accuses India of war hysteria over downed F-16 claim

KARACHI, Pakistan/MUMBAI (Reuters) – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan blamed India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for “whipping up war hysteria” over claims that India shot down a Pakistani F-16 during a standoff in February, saying the truth is always the best policy.

U.S.-based Foreign Policy magazine, citing U.S. officials, said all of Pakistan’s F-16 combat jets had been accounted for, contradicting an Indian air force assessment that it had shot down one of the jets.

“The truth always prevails and is always the best policy,” Khan said in a Tweet. “BJP’s attempt to win elections through whipping up war hysteria and false claims of downing a Pak F 16 has backfired with US Defence officials also confirming that no F16 was missing from Pakistan’s fleet.”

Nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan engaged in an aerial battle over the disputed region of Kashmir a day after Indian jets crossed over into Pakistan to attack a suspected camp of anti-India militants.

An Indian jet was brought down during the fight and its pilot captured when he ejected on the Pakistani side of the border. He was later released.

India said it too had shot down a Pakistani aircraft and the air force displayed pieces of a missile that it said had been fired by a Pakistani F-16 before it went down.

Foreign Policy said in a report published on Thursday two U.S. defence officials with direct knowledge of the matter said U.S. personnel had done a count of Pakistan’s F-16s and found none missing.

Details of the India-Pakistan air engagement have not been fully provided by either side. If the U.S. report turns out to be true, it would be a further blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had said that India had taught Pakistan a lesson, ahead of elections next week.

The BJP is campaigning on a platform of tough national security, especially with regard to arch foe Pakistan. New Delhi blames Pakistan for stoking a 30-year revolt in Muslim-majority Kashmir but Islamabad denies any involvement.

BJP spokesman Bizay Sonkar Shastri dismissed Khan’s accusations.

“Firstly, their (Pakistan’s) habit of lying is no secret to the world. Secondly, this is absolutely clear that the roots of terrorism lie in Pakistan and terrorism is cultivated in Pakistan,” he told Reuters.

The success of Indian air strikes on a camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group in northwestern Pakistan has also been thrown into doubt after satellite images showed little sign of damage.

High-resolution satellite images reviewed by Reuters last month showed that a religious school run by Jaish appeared to be still standing days after India said its warplanes had hit the Islamist group’s training camp on the site and killed a large number of militants.

Pakistan closed its airspace amid the standoff but most commercial air traffic has since resumed and major airports have opened.

Pakistan offered to open one air route on Friday, an Indian government official said, without specifying details and declining to be named as the matter was not public.

An Air India official said on condition of anonymity that Pakistan has opened one of its 11 air routes, from the southern side, adding that the carrier began operations via this route on Friday.

“Pakistan has opened one air route over India on April 4th, it is a north-west bound route,” Mujtaba Baig, spokesman for Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, told Reuters on Saturday.

An email sent to the Indian Directorate General of Civil Aviation was not immediately answered. Air India did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Source: Reuters

10/03/2019

India and Pakistan: How the war was fought in TV studios

An Indian man watches live news channels broadcasting images of Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander pilot Abhinandan Varthaman returning to India from the India-Pakistan Wagah border in New Delhi on March 1, 2019.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionAn Indian man watches the news broadcasting images of the released Indian pilot

As tensions between India and Pakistan escalated following a deadly suicide attack last month, there was another battle being played out on the airwaves. Television stations in both countries were accused of sensationalism and partiality. But how far did they take it? The BBC’s Rajini Vaidyanathan in Delhi and Secunder Kermani in Islamabad take a look.

It was drama that was almost made for television.

The relationship between India and Pakistan – tense at the best of times – came to a head on 26 February when India announced it had launched airstrikes on militant camps in Pakistan’s Balakot region as “retaliation” for a suicide attack that had killed 40 troops in Indian-administered Kashmir almost two weeks earlier.

A day later, on 27 February, Pakistan shot down an Indian jet fighter and captured its pilot.

Abhinandan Varthaman was freed as a “peace gesture”, and Pakistan PM Imran Khan warned that neither country could afford a miscalculation, with a nuclear arsenal on each side.

Suddenly people were hooked, India’s TV journalists included.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he speaks during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) "Sankalp" rally in Patna in the Indian eastern state of Bihar on March 3, 2019.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionIndian PM Narendra Modi is accused of exploiting India-Pakistan hostilities for political gain

So were they more patriots than journalists?

Rajini Vaidyanathan: Indian television networks showed no restraint when it came to their breathless coverage of the story. Rolling news was at fever pitch.

The coverage often fell into jingoism and nationalism, with headlines such as “Pakistan teaches India a lesson”, “Dastardly Pakistan”, and “Stay Calm and Back India” prominently displayed on screens.

Some reporters and commentators called for India to use missiles and strike back. One reporter in south India hosted an entire segment dressed in combat fatigues, holding a toy gun.

And while I was reporting on the return of the Indian pilot at the international border between the two countries in the northern city of Amritsar, I saw a woman getting an Indian flag painted on her cheek. “I’m a journalist too,” she said, as she smiled at me in slight embarrassment.

Print journalist Salil Tripathi wrote a scathing critique of the way reporters in both India and Pakistan covered the events, arguing they had lost all sense of impartiality and perspective. “Not one of the fulminating television-news anchors exhibited the criticality demanded of their profession,” she said.

Media captionIndia and Pakistan’s ‘war-mongering’ media

Secunder Kermani: Shortly after shooting down at least one Indian plane last week, the Pakistani military held a press conference.

As it ended, the journalists there began chanting “Pakistan Zindabad” (Long Live Pakistan). It wasn’t the only example of “journalistic patriotism” during the recent crisis.

Two anchors from private channel 92 News donned military uniforms as they presented the news – though other Pakistani journalists criticised their decision.

But on the whole, while Indian TV presenters angrily demanded military action, journalists in Pakistan were more restrained, with many mocking what they called the “war mongering and hysteria” across the border.

In response to Indian media reports about farmers refusing to export tomatoes to Pakistan anymore for instance, one popular presenter tweeted about a “Tomatical strike” – a reference to Indian claims they carried out a “surgical strike” in 2016 during another period of conflict between the countries.

Media analyst Adnan Rehmat noted that while the Pakistani media did play a “peace monger as opposed to a warmonger” role, in doing so, it was following the lead of Pakistani officials who warned against the risks of escalation, which “served as a cue for the media.”

What were they reporting?

Rajini Vaidyanathan: As TV networks furiously broadcast bulletins from makeshift “war rooms” complete with virtual reality missiles, questions were raised not just about the reporters but what they were reporting.

Indian channels were quick to swallow the government version of events, rather than question or challenge it, said Shailaja Bajpai, media editor at The Print. “The media has stopped asking any kind of legitimate questions, by and large,” she said. “There’s no pretence of objectiveness.”

In recent years in fact, a handful of commentators have complained about the lack of critical questioning in the Indian media.

Indians celebrated on hearing news of the strikesImage copyrightAFP
Image captionIndians celebrated news of the strikes

“For some in the Indian press corps the very thought of challenging the ‘official version’ of events is the equivalent of being anti-national”, said Ms Bajpai. “We know there have been intelligence lapses but nobody is questioning that.”

Senior defence and science reporter Pallava Bagla agreed. “The first casualty in a war is always factual information. Sometimes nationalistic fervour can make facts fade away,” he said.

This critique isn’t unique to India, or even this period in time. During the 2003 Iraq war, western journalists embedded with their country’s militaries were also, on many occasions, simply reporting the official narrative.

Secunder Kermani: In Pakistan, both media and public reacted with scepticism to Indian claims about the damage caused by the airstrikes in Balakot, which India claimed killed a large number of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militants in a training camp.

Hamid Mir, one of the most influential TV anchors in the country travelled to the area and proclaimed, “We haven’t seen any such (militant) infrastructure… we haven’t seen any bodies, any funerals.”

“Actually,” he paused, “We have found one body… this crow.” The camera panned down to a dead crow, while Mr Mir asked viewers if the crow “looks like a terrorist or not?”

There seems to be no evidence to substantiate Indian claims that a militant training camp was hit, but other journalists working for international outlets, including the BBC, found evidence of a madrassa, linked to JeM, near the site.

A cropped version of a satellite image shows a close-up of a madrasa near Balakot, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan, March 4, 2019. Picture taken March 4, 2019.Image copyrightPLANET LABS INC./HANDOUT VIA REUTERS
Image captionThe satellite image shows a close-up of a madrassa near Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Paktunkhwa

A photo of a signpost giving directions to the madrassa even surfaced on social media. It described the madrassa as being “under the supervision of Masood Azhar”. Mr Azhar is the founder of JeM.

The signpost’s existence was confirmed by a BBC reporter and Al Jazeera, though by the time Reuters visited it had apparently been removed. Despite this, the madrassa and its links received little to no coverage in the Pakistani press.

Media analyst Adnan Rehmat told the BBC that “there was no emphasis on investigating independently or thoroughly enough” the status of the madrassa.

In Pakistan, reporting on alleged links between the intelligence services and militant groups is often seen as a “red line”. Journalists fear for their physical safety, whilst editors know their newspapers or TV channels could face severe pressure if they publish anything that could be construed as “anti-state”.

Who did it better: Khan or Modi?

Rajini Vaidyanathan: With a general election due in a few months, PM Narendra Modi continued with his campaign schedule, mentioning the crisis in some of his stump speeches. But he never directly addressed the ongoing tensions through an address to the nation or a press conference.

This was not a surprise. Mr Modi rarely holds news conference or gives interviews to the media. When news of the suicide attack broke, Mr Modi was criticised for continuing with a photo shoot.

Imran KhanImage copyrightAFP
Image captionImran Khan was praised for his measured approach

The leader of the main opposition Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, dubbed him a “Prime Time Minister” claiming the PM had carried on filming for three hours. PM Modi has also been accused of managing his military response as a way to court votes.

At a campaign rally in his home state of Gujarat he seemed unflustered by his critics, quipping “they’re busy with strikes on Modi, and Modi is launching strikes on terror.”

Secunder Kermani: Imran Khan won praise even from many of his critics in Pakistan, for his measured approach to the conflict. In two appearances on state TV, and one in parliament, he appeared firm, but also called for dialogue with India.

His stance helped set the comparatively more measured tone for Pakistani media coverage.

Officials in Islamabad, buoyed by Mr Khan’s decision to release the captured Indian pilot, have portrayed themselves as the more responsible side, which made overtures for peace.

On Twitter, a hashtag calling for Mr Khan to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize was trending for a while. But his lack of specific references to JeM, mean internationally there is likely to be scepticism, at least initially, about his claims that Pakistan will no longer tolerate militant groups targeting India.

Source: The BBC

10/03/2019

India political parties asked to stop using armed forces images for campaigns

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s election commission issued a notice asking political parties not to use images of the country’s armed forces in their campaign posters and other advertising during its upcoming general election.

The notice followed pictures posted to social media recently showing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party used images in their campaign posters of a captured Indian Air Force pilot recently returned by Pakistan after a clash with India over the disputed Kashmir territory.

It called for “strict compliance” with the order.

The pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, was shot down on Feb. 27 by Pakistani aircraft during clashes between the two nuclear-armed powers that began after a terror attack last month in Kashmir that killed 40 Indian paramilitary police.

India blamed Pakistan for the attack and harbouring the militants that claimed responsibility for the attack. Pakistan denies the charges.

India later attacked a site inside Pakistan it claimed was a militant training camp. That triggered aerial clashes that led to Varthaman’s capture. Pakistan released him last week as a peace gesture.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed his release and claimed the clashes with Pakistan were an Indian victory. Nationalistic passions in India have risen since the terror attack.

Recent social media posts showed a campaign poster on a billboard in Indian capital of New Delhi with Varthaman’s face alongside Modi’s, along with the words: “If Modi is in power, it is possible! NaMo again 2019!” NaMo is an acronym for Modi.

Later on Sunday, the Election Commission is due to announce the polling schedule for the upcoming general election, which will be the world’s biggest democratic exercise.

Source: Reuters

09/03/2019

Man arrested over Kashmir grenade attack

Police at the site of the blast in Jammu city on 7 March 2019.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe blast occurred at a busy bus station in Jammu city

Indian police have arrested an alleged member of the Hizbul Mujahideen militant group after a grenade attack killed at least two people and injured more than 30 others.

The attack took place on Thursday in a bus station in the Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Last month a suicide attack against security forces triggered cross-border air strikes between India and Pakistan.

Hizbul Mujahideen has said it was not behind Thursday’s attack.

But police told BBC Urdu that the accused, Yasir Javed Bhat, had confessed. He is a Kashmiri and reported to be in his 20s.

“He revealed that he was tasked with throwing the grenade by Farooq Ahmed Bhat, a district commander of Hizbul Mujahideen in Kulgam district,” inspector general Manish Kumar Sinha said.

Mr Sinha added that they were gathering more intelligence on Yasir.

Hizbul Mujahideen was formed in 1989 when an armed insurgency against Indian rule first broke out in the valley. It was the largest Kashmiri militant group through the 1990s and is considered to be pro-Pakistani.

India has blamed Pakistan for supporting militancy in the region – a charge Islamabad denies.

Cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan, chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), speaks after voting in the general election in Islamabad, July 25, 2018Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionPakistan PM Imran Khan said Pakistan was not behind the suicide attack in February

This has long been a source of tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours as groups based in Pakistan have carried out deadly attacks on Indian soil. The suicide attack last month killed more than 40 central reserve policemen in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Tensions between the two sides escalated quickly. India carried out air strikes against what it said was a militant camp based in Pakistan and the latter retaliated with air raids of its own.

An Indian fighter jet was shot down in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the pilot was captured. Two days later, Pakistan handed over the pilot to Indian officials establishing a fragile truce.

Source: The BBC

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