While India claims tourists will soon be welcome to return to Kashmir, the country's crackdown on locals will continue. Mobile phones still won't work, highlighting just how severe the Indian government's tactics have been in its attempt to put down an uprising in the region.
Authorities in Indian-controlled Kashmir will allow tourists back into the region two months after ordering them to leave because of security concerns amid an Indian crackdown, an official said Tuesday.
But tourists are unlikely to experience normal life in the disputed area or be able to use mobile internet or cellphones, which remain cut.
Local government spokesman Rohit Kansal said the decision was made after a review of the situation. Security restrictions “have now been withdrawn almost entirely from all parts of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said. He said the restrictions on the entry of tourists will be lifted on Thursday.
The government instructed tourists and Hindu pilgrims to leave on Aug. 2, three days before India stripped the Muslim-majority region of its statehood and decades-old semi-autonomy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government also sent tens of thousands of additional troops to the region, already one of the most militarized in the world.
It imposed a harsh security clampdown, cutting virtually all communications. Indian troops arrested thousands of anti-India as well as pro-India activists, including some Kashmiri leaders who have historically accepted Indian rule over the region, in the days leading up to and after the revoking of its special status.
The moves touched off widespread anger, as one of the revisions allows anyone to buy land in the territory, which some Kashmiris fear will result in an influx of Hindus who would change the region’s culture and demographics. Authorities have since eased some restrictions and encouraged students to return to school and businesses to reopen, but Kashmiris have largely stayed indoors to show their defiance of Indian rule.
They have launched a campaign of refusal to resume their normal lives, confounding India at the cost of economic losses for themselves. Shops have adopted new, limited hours of operation in the early morning and evening. Some tourist operators expressed surprise over the government’s decision. “When everything is shut, what kind of tourist will take a risk to come here without basic amenities like phones and public transport?” said Bashir Ahmed, a tourist operator whose business has been shut since August.
India “has always tried to use tourism as a sign of normality,” said Nazir Ahmed, a Kashmiri schoolteacher. Kashmir’s pristine mountainous landscape, ski resorts, lake houseboats and apple orchards have long made it a tourist attraction. However, a full-blown armed rebellion has raged in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir since 1989 seeking a united Kashmir — either under Pakistani rule or independent of both countries.
About 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and an Indian military crackdown. India accuses Pakistan of training and arming the rebels, a charge Islamabad denies. Simmering tensions over Kashmir have also threatened to erupt into open conflict between India and Pakistan after New Delhi imposed the heavy restrictions in the area it controls.
Kashmir is divided between the two nuclear-armed rivals, which both claim it in its entirety. They have fought two wars over its control.
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Photo credit: Pilgrims gather in Kashmir in 2013. Chetan Karkhanis / Flickr