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

Firdous Hassan





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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JK polls, unemployment dominate all-party meet

Press Trust of India



New Delhi, Jun 16: A day before the Budget session of Parliament, the Congress Sunday raised with the government issues of unemployment, farmers distress, drought, and press freedom, while also calling for early conduct of assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir.

At an all-party meeting called by the government, the opposition parties demanded discussion on all such issues in Parliament, with the Congress asserting that it is still a “fight of ideologies”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, Congress lawmakers Adhir Ranjan Choudhary, K Suresh, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah and TMC leader Derek O’Brien were present at the meeting.


The opposition also strongly raised the issue of women’s reservation bill with Trinamool Congress leaders Sudip Bandyopadhyay and O’Brien asserting that the bill be listed and passed in the current session of Parliament.

The opposition also flagged concerns over weakening of federalism and asserted that “deliberately targeting of states is unacceptable”.

“We congratulated the government. But with that we also told them that this is a fight of ideologies, it was a fight of ideologies and it will remain a fight of ideologies,” Azad told reporters after the meeting.

He said the Congress party is the foundation of secular forces and will always work to keep that spirit alive whether it is in government or in opposition.

“Even when out of power, we will continue to work for the upliftment of farmers, labourers and women. We also said that there are some issues that the government should pay attention to such as those of the farmers, drought, lack of drinking water, and massive unemployment in the country,” Azad said.

The government needs to immediately pay attention to unemployment that has increased in the last five years, he asserted.

“We also raised the issue of freedom of press. The behaviour of ruling party workers towards journalists was also raised. They (journalists) are being beaten and efforts are being made to muzzle their voice. We condemn that and urged the government to look into it,” he said.

Azad said the independence of institutions and “weakening of federalism” was also taken up with the government at the meeting.

According to him, the Congress told the government that there is no need of president’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir.

On one hand the government says the environment is not conducive for polls and that is why president’s rule has been imposed, and on the other hand the centre says panchayat elections were carried out peacefully last year, Azad said.

“Lok Sabha elections were also held in Jammu and Kashmir recently and even they were conducted peacefully. So, when panchayat and parliamentary polls can be conducted, why not state polls,” he asked.

“We told the government that you are not conducting the polls there because the BJP government will not be formed. That is why you want to rule the state through governor’s rule,” the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir said.

The Union Cabinet last week approved extension of President’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir for six more months beginning July 3.

An official statement said based on the prevailing situation in Jammu and Kashmir as stated in the report of the governor, the Union Cabinet, chaired by the prime minister has approved the extension of President’s rule in the state for a further period of six months with effect from July 3, 2019, under article 356(4) of the Constitution of India.

The TMC raised the issues of electoral reforms, including state funding of elections and paper ballots.

The party also flagged the opposition’s concerns over the government’s use of ordinances, saying that in the spirit of the Constitution this should be used only as an “emergency” tool.

“Unfortunately, in the 16th Lok Sabha it was blatantly overused. Highest percentage of ordinances in 70 years,” Bandyopadhyay and O’Brien said.

17th Lok Sabha’s to begin session today

Budget, triple talaq in focus

New Delhi, Jun 16: The first session of the 17th Lok Sabha will commence from Monday during which the passage of the Union Budget and other key legislations such as triple talaq will be on top of the agenda for the government.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, chairing an all-party meeting on the eve of the first session of the new Lok Sabha, invited heads of all parties to a meeting on June 19 to discuss the “one nation, one election” issue and other important matters.

Noting that there are many new faces in this Lok Sabha, Modi said the first session of the Lower House of Parliament should begin with “fresh zeal and new thinking”.

At the all-party meeting, the Congress raised with the government issues of unemployment, farmers distress, drought, and press freedom, while also calling for early conduct of assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir.

The opposition parties demanded discussion on all such issues in Parliament, with the Congress asserting that it is still a “fight of ideologies”.

Prime Minister Modi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, Congress lawmakers Adhir Ranjan Choudhary, K Suresh, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah and TMC leader Derek O”Brien were present at the meeting.

The BJP also held its parliamentary party meet here Sunday with Prime Minister Modi assuring Indians that his government will be at the forefront of facilitating legislation that manifests the spirit of “sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas”.

A day before the first session of the newly-constituted 17th Lok Sabha, a meeting of the NDA was also held here.

The government had promulgated as many as 10 ordinances for the session which ends on July 26 and will have 30 sittings.

The first two days of the session will be used for administering oath of office to all Lok Sabha MPs. The oath will be administered by protem speaker Virender Kumar. The speaker will be elected on June 19 and the next day the president will address a joint sitting of both Houses.

The budget will be introduced on July 5.

Among the bills that will be introduced, the one on triple talaq could be a contentious one between the government and the opposition.

Addressing the media after the all-party meeting, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prahlad Joshi said the prime minister urged leaders of all parties to “introspect whether members of Parliament are able to fulfil people”s aspirations as their representatives and the manner in which last two years of the 16th Lok Sabha were wasted”.

An all-party meeting is a customary procedure before the beginning of every session of Parliament to ensure its smooth functioning.

Joshi said the government has requested all parties, especially the opposition, for their cooperation for the smooth functioning of both Houses of Parliament.

In order to build esprit de corps, Modi has invited presidents of all those parties who have an MP either in Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha for a meeting on June 19.

The meeting has been called to discuss “one nation, one election” issue, celebrations of 75 years of India”s Independence in 2022 and 150 years of Mahatma Gandhi”s birth anniversary this year, he said.

It will be followed by a dinner meeting with all MPs of both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha on June 20 to freely interact and exchange views with the government, Joshi said, adding that these two novel initiatives would go a long way in building team spirit among all parliamentarians. (PTI)

PM to meet party presidents on Jun 19

Press Trust of India

New Delhi, Jun 16: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called a meeting of presidents of all parties represented in Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha on June 19 to discuss the issue of ‘one nation, one election’, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prahlad Joshi said Sunday.

The prime minister has called the meeting to also discuss the celebration of 75 years of India’s independence in 2022, 150 years of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary this year and issues related to aspirational districts, Joshi said after an all-party meeting called by the government.

He said the PM has also called a meeting of MPs to discuss these issues on June 20, he said.

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‘Pak warns India of Pulwama-like IED attack’




Srinagar, Jun 16: Pakistan has shared information regarding the threat of a possible attack in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, Indian Express reported on Sunday.

The entire security grid in J&K is on its toes after the alert, which came just days ago, regarding a possible attack by militants using an improvised explosive device mounted on a vehicle, the report said.

“The Pakistanis shared this information regarding the possibility of such an attack with our High Commission in Islamabad. They had also shared this information with the Americans, who too, informed us. So this information has come directly as well as via the Americans to us,” Express quoted an official saying.


“The attack, the Pakistanis say, is being ostensibly planned to avenge the killing of Zakir Musa,” the official was quoted saying by the newspaper.

Musa, who launched and headed an al-Qaeda affiliate called Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind in Kashmir after breaking away from the Hizbul Mujahideen in May 2017, was killed in an operation in the Tral area last month. Police sources said Ansar, which had an estimated membership of about a dozen militants, is now down to “two to three” militants.

The security official, as per the Express report, said: “We are reading Pakistan’s sharing of this information in two ways. It is either a way to make sure that they avoid blame if a big attack takes place, because they have already shared the information with the Americans. Or it is a genuine attempt to inform us ahead after they found out, particularly because the information is regarding a plan to attack by members of an al-Qaeda linked group.”

“We also understand that any activities of terrorists linked to al-Qaeda are seen differently by them (Pakistan),” the official said.

Another senior police officer confirmed the alert. “We are always on alert, especially in South Kashmir. But we are taking this alert very seriously,” this officer said.

Zakir Rashid Bhat alias Zakir Musa, the police claims, was the last surviving member of the Burhan Wani group. Wani was killed on July 8, 2016. Musa subsequently broke away from the Hizbul Mujahideen in May 2017 to set up the Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, which he claimed was a local affiliate of al-Qaeda. The Global Islamic Media Front, the online propaganda arm of al-Qaeda, had released a statement on the setting up of the Ansar in Kashmir.

Musa was a civil engineering student at a college in Chandigarh when he went missing in July 2013, and joined the Hizbul Mujahideen subsequently. In 2017, Musa released an audio threatening top separatist leaders in the Valley. He was also publicly critical of Pakistan.

The February 14 fidayeen car bomb attack in which over 40 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force were killed, had taken place on the highway at Lethpora (also in Pulwama district), which is 7 km from Awantipora. The attack had prompted India to launch the Balakot airstrikes on February 26, and Pakistan had retaliated the following day.

Temperatures were lowered after Pakistan returned IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan who had been captured after his MiG-21 Bison was shot down.

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Lead Stories

MHA framing SOPs for cross LoC trade?

Firdous Hassan



Srinagar, Jun 16: Suspended for nearly two months now, the Ministry for Homes Ministry (MHA) is framing Standard Operation Procedures (SOP) for the cross LoC trade in Jammu and Kashmir, sources told The Kashmir Monitor.

The MHA on April 18 suspended the cross-LoC trade in J&K, saying that it was being used for “funneling of illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency.”

Sources said various departments are extending a list of SOPs for the trade, which is awaiting approval by the MHA.


“As such there is no order to resume the LOC trade but various steps are being taken to ensure legal trade through the route ahead,” they said.

Sources added that MHA was working out to establish a mechanism to block the entry of “illegal items.”

The traders, however, claimed they have not received any communication or timeline from MHA for resumption of the trade.

“We haven’t received any sort of information from the Centre. We too heard that some SOPs are being framed before the trade is resumed in the state,” said Pawan Gupta, who heads the traders association in Chakan-da-Bagh in Poonch.

Meanwhile, the authorities, as a part of the SOPs, had already started working on installing truck scanners at both the trade centres Salamabad in Kashmir and Chakan Da Bagh in Jammu.

Sources said the through this facility, the Customs Department and other agencies will have a direct access to check the items imported from Pakistan-Administered Kashmir.

“This is probably the hi-tech mechanism to combat import of drugs and other illicit goods,” they said.

After suspending the LOC trade in April, the MHA had said that the issue will be “revisited” after a “stricter regulatory & enforcement mechanism” that is being worked out is “put in place in consultation with various agencies”.

The suspension of the business has hit around 280 traders, who were directly involved in the trading, which has touched Rs 6,900 crore since its inception in 2008.

The trade was taking place four days a week on the barter system and zero-duty through two trade facilitation centres.

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