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Pulwama attack, Indo-Pak tension fallout: International tour companies predict bleak 2019 for Kashmir tourism

Firdous Hassan

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Srinagar, Mar 6: In wake of the Pulwama attack followed by war-like situation between India and Pakistan, many prominent international travel agencies are dissuading their clientele from visiting Kashmir.
The February 14 suicide bombing on the highway near Lethpora saw 49 paramilitary troopers getting killed, triggering a war-like situation between India and Pakistan, as the former accused the latter of sheltering Jaish-e-Mohammad, the militant outfit that claimed the attack.
The resulting tensions led to cancellation of nearly 80 per cent of the bookings by tourists scheduled to visit the valley in spring.
Further narrowing the chances of a reasonable tourist arrival, a few international travel service providers have now started recommending its Indian customer base to choose other hilly destinations over Kashmir.
“Our central tour management team is closely monitoring the current situation and developments in Kashmir. Our teams are in touch with customers and assisting them where required with optional destination, postponing travel dates or providing a future voucher,” Rajeev Kale, President and Country head, Leisure Travel, MICE and Visas at Thomas Cook (India) limited told The Kashmir Monitor in an emailed statement.
He said alternate destinations selected by its customers for summer include Himachal Pradesh in north Indian and Ooty, Kodaikanal and Munnar in south. “Bhutan and Sri Lanka in Indian subcontinent are also seeing interest,” Kale said.
“Besides domestic destinations, international short haul destinations including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan and Dubai are also in high demand,” he said.
Reputed international travel agencies share a good proportion of tourist flow to Kashmir particularly those of foreigners from European and gulf countries.
Pots-Pulwama attack many countries including Britain have asked its citizens to refrain from visiting Kashmir.
Karan Anand, Head Relationships, Cox & Kings said they are also expecting their clients to switch destinations over Kashmir in view of the present situation.
“We see a shift in cancelling of trips to Kashmir in the medium term due to the present situation. Travelers will schedule their visits for Kashmir another time. However, Leh, Ladakh and Nubra valley will stand to gain in the coming summer holiday season,” Anand told The Kashmir Monitor in an email.
He said the situation in Kashmir is likely to boost tourism in Himachal Pradesh and north-east by at least 20 percent this summer.
“For the upcoming season we expect people to switch to destinations that share the same topography and receive a fair bit of snowfall.
Hill stations such as Manali and Rohtang Pass in Himachal Pradesh, Katao and Zero Point in Sikkim are expected to see a spike in the number of domestic Indian tourists. We expect a 20 per cent increase in numbers to these destinations,” he said.
“Those opting for hill stations will also travel to places like Nainital, Rishikesh, Dalhousie and Dharmshala in Himachal Pradesh in the North and these destinations can expect a growth of over 20 per cent this summer,” Anand added.
Neelu Singh, CEO & Director, Ezeego1, said the rate of enquiries for other destinations has gone up due to the current situation in Kashmir.
“Summer travel to Kashmir will come down as holidaymakers are exploring other destinations in north India. Tourists are switching to places in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Bhutan and Nepal are also gaining more tourists due to the altered preference and rate of enquiries for these two countries have gone up significantly,” she said.
Some political and right-wing Hindu outfits had called for boycotting Kashmir tourism soon after the Pulwama attack.
Kashmir tourism has been witnessing a slump in arrivals since 2014, as tourists preferred other destinations over the valley due to worsening of the decades-old political conflict in the region.
In 2018, Kashmir received only 8.5 lakh tourists, which is the lowest in last seven years. In 2012, the state had received 13 lakh visitors.


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Awantipora teacher killed in police custody

Torture marks on body; city DM orders inquiry; police says deceased was ‘suspect in militancy case’

Syed Nashir Ali Gillani

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Srinagar, Mar 19: A youth from Awantipora town in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district was killed in police custody in Srinagar during the intervening night of March 18 and 19.
The deceased was identified as 28-year-old Rizwan Assad Pandith, M.Sc in Chemistry, who worked as Principal at Sabir Abdullah, a local private school, and also ran a tuition institute.
He was arrested from his home on Sunday, March 17 by a Police party led by a DSP rank officer, his brother Zulkarnain said.
“Yesterday (Monday), we went to the police station where we were told that my brother was in the custody of Cargo guys,” Zulkarnain said.
‘Cargo’ is a counter-insurgency police camp located in Srinagar.
He added that on Tuesday morning the family came to know that Rizwan was “killed in cargo.”
“It is a cold-blooded custodial murder,” Zulkarnain alleged.
“My brother was innocent. He was running a tuition center and was working as a Principal of a local private school. We fail to understand what his crime was and why was he killed?” he said.
Zulkarnain added that his brother was not affiliated with any militant organisation.
“He was associated with Jamaat-e-Islami. Is that a crime? My father too is a member of Jamaat,” he said.
The family, later in the day, refused to take back the body from Police Control Room Srinagar amid protests and clashes in Awantipora.
Mubashir, Rizwan’s elder sibling, told The Kashmir Monitor over the phone that the family was asked to receive the body from Police Control Room, Srinagar, however, they refused telling the police that they should themselves bring the body back.
“Finally the Awantipora police handed over the body along with other documentation. We will perform the jinazah by 9 pm (Tuesday),” Mubashir said.
He added that Rizwan was arrested on “frivolous” charges, slapped with Public Safety Act (PSA) on 26 August 2018, and shifted to Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu, where he was kept for five months.
The PSA, he added, was eventually quashed by a local court in Pulwama but the police kept detaining Rizwan and released him on January 6, around 20 days after the court order.
“Since then, he was busy with his routine work and was living a normal life,” he said.
Mubashir said that Rizwan’s body carried clear torture marks.
“His left eye had completely blackened, his nose was still bleeding and there were several torture marks on his body. His stomach had swollen a lot. It clearly shows he died of torture,” he said.
A police spokesperson said that Rizwan was a “suspect” in a militancy case investigation.
“He died in police custody. In this matter, while following the procedure laid down in section 176 of CRPC, a magisterial inquiry is underway. Separately police investigation has also been initiated in the jurisdictional area of the incident,” police said.
Unconfirmed reports had linked Rizwan’s detention with recent NIA raids, however, a spokesperson of NIA denied their link with the case.
“Emphatically deny reports linking NIA with Rizwan Ahmad of Awantipora. He was neither called for questioning nor was he examined at any other location in connection with cases being investigated by NIA,” the NIA spokesperson said in a statement.
In the evening, District Magistrate Srinagar, Shahid Iqbal Choudhary, told a local news agency that they have started proceedings into the case under the magisterial probe.
“The inquiry will be conducted by the Additional Commissioner Srinagar. We will complete the probe soon and submit the report to the government,” news agency Kashmir News Service quoted Choudhary saying.
Soon after the news about the killing was shared, youth came out protesting in parts of south Kashmir and Srinagar.
The authorities at Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) in Awantipora had already closed the varsity as a precautionary measure.
In Srinagar, shopkeepers at Maisuma and downtown areas including Nowhatta and Rajouri Kadal downed the shutters in protest.

NIA denies involvement

Srinagar, Mar 19: Amid outrage over the death of an Awantipora resident in police custody, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Tuesday said the deceased was not examined by the probe agency.
“NIA emphatically denies reports linking NIA with Rizwan Ahmed resident of Awantipora,” the probe agency said, in a statement, issued on Tuesday.
“He was neither called for questioning nor was he examined at any other location in connection with cases being investigated by NIA.”
Rizwan Assad Pandith (28) died in the custody at CARGO camp in Srinagar last night, triggering widespread condemnations and protests in Kashmir.
Separatists have called shutdown in Kashmir tomorrow to protests his custodial death.
Earlier, reports had said that Pandith was detained by the NIA few days ago.
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said on Twitter that Rizwan was, as per sources, picked up by NIA few days ago and was lodged in CARGO camp.

Spontaneous shutdown, clashes in several areas

Srinagar, Mar 19: The custodial killing of a private school teacher from South Kashmir’s Pulwama district Tuesday triggered a spontaneous shutdown at many places in Awantipora and old-city areas here.
28-year-old Rizwan Assad Pandith, a post-graduate in Chemistry, who worked as teacher at a local private school and also ran a tuition institute, was killed in police custody during the intervening night of March 18 and 19.
As soon as the news of his death went public on Tuesday, all the shops and business establishments were closed in Awantipora soon and the local youth engaged in clashes with government forces.
Police said that a probe is underway while as the separate police investigation has also been launched.
The students of Kashmir University also staged a protest against the custodial death of the youth and against summoning of Hurriyat (M) Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
The students assembled in the premises of Kashmir University and raised slogans.
The students demanded investigation into the death of a youth. They also termed the summoning of Mirwaiz to National Investigation Agency (NIA) as ‘interference in religious affairs’, saying such acts must be stopped forthwith.

 

His death exposes helplessness of Kashmiris: Mirwaiz

Srinagar, Mar 19: Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq on Tuesday said that the custodial killing of a school teacher has once again exposed the “helplessness” of the people of Kashmir.
“Distraught at the brutal custodial killing of young Rizwan Ahmed of Awantipora. The brutal killing once again exposes the, helplessness, vulnerability and insecurity of the lives of Kashmiri’s as impunity to the authorities keeps rising. (sic),” Mirwaiz wrote on Twitter.
Earlier, both the former chief ministers of the state, National Conference’s Omar Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Mehbooba Mufti lashed out at the government of India over the custodial killing of a school teacher.
On Tuesday, a school teacher, identified as Rizwan Pandith, died in police custody at CARGO camp in Srinagar.
A resident of a resident of Awantipora in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district, Rizwan was arrested by the police few days back from his home.
A police official said that Rizwan died during the intervening night of Monday and Tuesday.
The Jammu Kashmir Police department has asked for a magisterial inquiry.

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Joint Hurriyat calls for shutdown today

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Srinagar, Mar 19: Joint Hurriyat Leadership Tuesday called for a complete shutdown on Wednesday against the custodial killing of 28-year-old school teacher Rizwan Asad Pandith of Awantipora.
Joint Hurriyat, as per a statement, strongly condemned the killing of Rizwan, who was picked up by police a few days ago and was killed in custody at SOG camp Cargo.
Paying tributes to Rizwan and expressing deep grief and sorrow at his ‘killing’, Joint Hurriyat expressed sympathy with his bereaved family.
Terming this killing as ‘gruesome’, the leadership said that “this custodial killing is not only one of its kind but prior to this, hundreds and thousands of young and old Kashmiris have been killed in this manner.”
“This killing has actually increased the vulnerability of Kashmiri inmates languishing in different jails of India and jails of Jammu Kashmir, and jeopardized their lives,” they said.
Announcing a comprehensive protest program against this ‘state terrorism’, the leadership said “people will observe a complete and comprehensive protest strike on Wednesday, March 20, against the gruesome custodial killing of Rizwan Asad, policies of intimidation and harassment by police, SOG and other Indian investigative agencies, arbitrary arrests, slapping of draconian PSA, summoning political activists to SOG camps and thus creating atmosphere of fear in Jammu Kashmir.”
Joint Hurriyat appealed all segments of society including traders, lawyers, bar association, civil society, and others from different walks of life to peacefully protest against the custodial killing and assaults on Kashmiris.
On Friday, March 22, after Friday prayers, people at all Masajid, Khanqahs and Imam Baras will raise their voices peacefully against this custodial death and continuing policy of ‘oppression, Joint Hurriyat said.
Joint Hurriyat said that those who raise their voice against the killing of youth, their arrests and slapping with PSA are branded as “anti-national “and threatened with dire consequences and intimidation. “While crackdown and arrest spree against political and religious activists and youth continues unabated on the other hand SOG has been calling political activists and youth to SOG cargo camp to intimidate them and create an atmosphere of fear among people in general,” they said.
Joint Hurriyat said through their investigative agencies NIA and ED, the authorities have let loose a reign of terror to instill fear among people and harass them.
“People of Kashmir have borne tremendous hardships and suffering for the last three decades especially, all because they are asking for an end to the conflict through peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute as per the people’s wishes but instead people are being crushed,” Joint Hurriyat said.

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Thing of our dark past: Omar, Mehbooba, ors condemn killing

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Srinagar, Mar 19: The mainstream political parties in Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday condemned the custodial killing of a youth from South Kashmir’s Pulwama district, who was arrested in connection with a ‘militancy case’ on Sunday.
Soon after the news about the death of youth in custody spread, the political parties and leaders took to the micro-blogging social networking site and condemned the custodial killing.
Former chief minister and National Conference Vice President, Omar Abdullah said the custodial death was unacceptable and must be investigated in transparent and time bound manner.
“I had hoped custodial deaths were a thing of our dark past. This is an unacceptable development & must be investigated in a transparent, time bound manner. Exemplary punishment must be handed out to the killers of this young man,” Omar tweeted.
The former chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief, Mehbooba Mufti said GoI’s repressive approach leaves young educated men vulnerable who are forced to take up arms, saying ‘we have suffered enough’.
“Innocent men hauled up from their homes for interrogation return home only in coffins now. GoI’s repressive approach leaves young educated men vulnerable who are forced to take up arms. Stop using Kashmir to exhibit your sick chauvinistic nationalism. We have suffered enough,” Mehbooba tweeted.
Peoples Conference (PC) chairman and former minister Sajad Gani Lone in a tweet condemned the custodial death of a youth, saying ‘this is what the sanctity of human life has been reduced to in Kashmir.’
“Condemn in strongest terms the death in police custody in Pulwama. This is what the sanctity of human life has been reduced to in Kashmir. My thoughts r with the family of the deceased,” Sajad tweeted.
Peoples Conference (PC) General Secretary and former minister, Imran Raza Ansari condemned the custodial death of a youth from south Kashmir’s Pulwama district today.
Ansari demanded time bound inquiry into the custodial death of a youth. He expressed solidarity with the bereaved family and also for their courage to bear this loss.
Former finance minister Syed Mohammad Altaf Bukhari also demanded a time bound probe into the ‘extra judicial killing’ of the youth.
Expressing serious concern over the incident, Bukhari expressed his heartfelt sympathies with the bereaved family and prayed for eternal peace to the departed soul.
“It is highly unfortunate that a young man, teacher by profession, has lost his life in police custody and it needs to be thoroughly investigated to know what went wrong and who are responsible for his death in custody,” Bukhari demanded.
Demanding judicial enquiry into the alleged custodial killing of a 28-year-old Awantipora school teacher, CPI (M) leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami said no civilized society can tolerate such acts.
“The custodial death of Rizwan Pandith must be investigated in a transparent and time bound manner and government must order a judicial enquiry into the incident immediately. Custodial killing isn’t acceptable to any human being and whosoever is involved Pandith’s killing must be given exemplary punishment. Custodial killing is a brutality and brutalities are unacceptable in whatever form they are,” Tarigami said.
Peoples Democratic Front (PDF) chairman and former MLA Khansahib, Hakeem Muhammad Yaseen also condemned the death of a youth in custody, demanding time bound inquiry into the incident.
In a statement issued, Hakeem said, “Such killings are unfortunate and are highly condemnable. We have been raising voice that repressive measures will yield no results. We demand a time bound judicial inquiry to be ordered and the persons involved in it be punished so that such incidents are not repeated,” he said.

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