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Traffic suspended, thousands stranded on Sgr-Jmu highway

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Srinagar, Jul 8: Thousands of people including Amarnath pilgrims were left stranded on Sunday as authorities suspended traffic on Jammu-Srinagar national highway and Mughal road connecting Kashmir with rest of the world. Director General of Police S P Vaid had, on Saturday, announced suspension of the ongoing Amarnath yatra for Sunday in view of the strike call given by separatists to mark the second death anniversary of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. “No yatri was allowed to move from Bhagwati Nagar base camp and those who have arrived in the winter capital and heading for Kashmir on their own were also stopped at various places along the Jammu-Srinagar national highway,” a government official said. He said the step was taken as a precautionary measure in view of the strike call on the second death anniversary of Wani. During a visit to Kathua district to review arrangements for Amarnath pilgrims on Saturday, the police chief announced suspension of the yatra for the day and sought cooperation from the pilgrims. “Security and facilitation of yatris is our top priority. My appeal to the pilgrims is that they should cooperate with us keeping in mind the (law and order) situation in the Valley,” the DGP said. The 60-day annual yatra to the 3,880-metre-high cave shrine of Amarnath in south Kashmir Himalayas began on June 28 and has faced many disruptions due to inclement weather. Till Saturday evening, as many as 83,130 Yatris had paid obeisance at the cave shrine, housing the naturally formed ice-Shivlingam. The officials said over 20,000 pilgrims who have reached here from various parts of the country to undertake the yatra were left stranded for the past several days. However, authorities have made adequate arrangements including boarding and lodging for them at various camps, they said. A traffic police official in the highway township of Ramban said over 2,000 tourists including yatris were stopped from proceeding to Kashmir from Jammu last evening. The traffic on highway was suspended due to situation in the Valley. No vehicle was allowed to move from Jammu towards Srinagar since this morning, he said. The officer said security forces were deployed in strength in Banihal town along the highway, the only all-weather over 260-km-long road linking Kashmir with rest of the country, which observed a shutdown in response to the separatist sponsored strike call. A traffic spokesman in Jammu said the traffic was also suspended on Mughal road, an alternate link connecting the twin border districts of Poonch and Rajouri in Jammu region with Shopian district in south Kashmir, as a precautionary measure.


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Post-Pulwama escalation: India, Pak had threatened to fire missiles at each other: Report

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New Delhi, Mar 17: The sparring between India and Pakistan last month threatened to spiral out of control and only interventions by U.S. officials, including National Security Advisor John Bolton, headed off a bigger conflict, international news agency Reuters quoting five sources familiar with the events reported on Sunday.
At one stage, India threatened to fire at least six missiles at Pakistan, and Islamabad said it would respond with its own missile strikes “three times over”, according to Western diplomats and government sources in New Delhi, Islamabad and Washington.
The way in which tensions suddenly worsened and threatened to trigger a war between the nuclear-armed nations shows how the Kashmir region, which both claim and is at the core of their enmity, remains one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints.
The exchanges did not get beyond threats, and there was no suggestion that the missiles involved were anything more than conventional weapons, but they created consternation in official circles in Washington, Beijing and London.
Reuters has pieced together the events that led to the most serious military crisis in South Asia since 2008, as well as the concerted diplomatic efforts to get both sides to back down.
The simmering dispute erupted into conflict late last month when Indian and Pakistani warplanes engaged in a dogfight over Kashmir on Feb 27, a day after a raid by Indian jet fighters on what it said was a militant camp in Pakistan. Islamabad denied any militant camp exists in the area and said the Indian bombs exploded on an empty hillside.
In their first such clash since the last war between the two nations in 1971, Pakistan downed an Indian plane and captured its pilot after he ejected in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.
Hours later, videos of the bloodied Indian pilot, handcuffed and blindfolded, appeared on social media, identifying himself to Pakistani interrogators, deepening anger in New Delhi.
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi facing a general election in April-May, the government was under pressure to respond.
That evening, Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval spoke over a secure line to the head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Asim Munir, to tell him India was not going to back off its new campaign of “counter terrorism” even after the pilot’s capture, an Indian government source and a Western diplomat with knowledge of the conversations told Reuters in New Delhi.
Doval told Munir that India’s fight was with the militant groups that freely operated from Pakistani soil and it was prepared to escalate, said the government source.
A Pakistani government minister and a Western diplomat in Islamabad separately confirmed a specific Indian threat to use six missiles on targets inside Pakistan. They did not specify who delivered the threat or who received it, but the minister said Indian and Pakistani intelligence agencies “were communicating with each other during the fight, and even now they are communicating with each other”.
Pakistan said it would counter any Indian missile attacks with many more launches of its own, the minister told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We said if you will fire one missile, we will fire three. Whatever India will do, we will respond three times to that,” the Pakistani minister said.
Doval’s office did not respond to a request for comment. India was not aware of any missile threat issued to Pakistan, a government official said in reply to a Reuters request for comment.
Pakistan’s military declined to comment and Munir could not be reached for comment. Pakistan’s foreign ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
The crisis unfolded as U.S. President Donald Trump was trying to hammer out an agreement with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi over its nuclear program.
U.S. security advisor Bolton was on the phone with Doval on the night of Feb 27 itself, and into the early hours of Feb 28, the second day of the Trump-Kim talks, in an attempt to defuse the situation, the Western diplomat in New Delhi and the Indian official said.
Later, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was also in Hanoi, also called both sides to seek a way out of the crisis.
“Secretary Pompeo led diplomatic engagement directly, and that played an essential role in de-escalating the tensions between the two sides,” State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino said in a briefing in Washington on March 5.
A State Department official declined comment when asked if they knew of the threats to use missiles.
Pompeo spoke to Doval, the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers Sushma Swaraj and Shah Mahmood Qureshi, respectively, Palladino said.
U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Admiral Phil Davidson told reporters in Singapore last week that he had separately been in touch with the Indian navy chief, Sunil Lanba, throughout the crisis. There was no immediate response from Lanba’s office to a question on the nature of the conversations.
U.S. efforts were focused on securing the quick release of the Indian pilot by Pakistan and winning an assurance from India it would pull back from the threat to fire rockets, the Western diplomat in New Delhi and officials in Washington said.
Pompeo ‘hopeful’ North Korea talks will continue
“We made a lot of effort to get the international community involved in encouraging the two sides to de-escalate the situation because we fully realized how dangerous it was,” said a senior Trump administration official.
The Pakistani minister said China and the United Arab Emirates also intervened. China’s foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment. The government of the UAE said Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan held talks with both Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.
India has not given details, but has said it was in touch with major powers during the conflict.
On the morning of Feb 28, Trump told reporters in Hanoi that he expected the crisis to end soon.
“They have been going at it and we have been involved in trying to have them stop. Hopefully that is going to be coming to an end.”
Later that afternoon, Khan announced in Pakistan’s parliament that the Indian pilot would be released, and he was sent back the next day.
“I know last night there was a threat there could a missile attack on Pakistan, which got defused,” Khan said. “I know, our army stood prepared for retaliation of that attack.”
The two countries have gone to war three times since both gained independence in 1947, the last time in 1971. The two armies are trading fire along the line of control that separates them in Kashmir, but the tensions appear contained for now.
Diplomatic experts said that the latest crisis underlined the chances of misread signals and unpredictability in the ties between the nuclear-armed rivals, and the huge dangers. It still was not clear whether India had targeted a militant camp in Pakistan and whether there were any casualties, they said.
“Indian and Pakistani leaders have long evinced confidence that they can understand each other’s deterrence signals and can de-escalate at will,” said Joshua White, a former White House official who is now at Johns Hopkins.
“The fact that some of the most basic facts, intentions and attempted strategic signals of this crisis are still shrouded in mystery … should be a sobering reminder that neither country is in a position to easily control a crisis once it begins.” (Courtesy Reuters)

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Dearth of non-local workers in Kashmir this year

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Srinagar, Mar 17: Kashmir has been left facing an acute shortage of migrant workers this year with the building activities in the valley taking a severe burnt.
Though officials have no explanation for this unusual development, locals widely believe that the migrant workers may be shunning the valley, fearing reprisal against them due to attacks on Kashmiris outside the state after the February 14 Pulwama suicide bombing that left 40 CRPF troopers dead.
Tens of thousands of migrant workers, who used to reach here from Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand and elsewhere in the country by the last week of February or early March till last year are conspicuous by their absence this year.
These workers, both skilled and unskilled, have failed to show up in the valley so far, hitting the construction activities that usually resume in March at the end of three-month winter here.
The valley’s labour market used to be so dominated by the migrant workers that the city’s many landmark spots have been unofficially renamed as ‘Bihari chowks’.
For example, Hawal Chowk in downtown city, Chanapora in uptown Srinagar and Rambagh on Srinagar Airport road have come to be referred as ‘Bihari chowks’ with hundreds of migrant workers arriving there every morning till last year, seeking daily-wage employments.
Srinagar residents attribute the acute dearth of migrant workers this year to their possible heightened fears over possible retaliation against them here due to attacks on Kashmiri students outside the state after the Pulwama terror strike.
“A major factor behind them not coming to Kashmir may be the fear of reprisal against the Kashmiris getting targeted by right-wing goons in other parts of the country over the Pulwama attack,” said Arshad Hussain, a businessman.
The dearth of labourers has resulted in construction works getting delayed and the labour costs shooting up.
“I used to employ 50 to 60 labourers daily — most of them migrant workers. Right now I have to make do with just 10 to 15 local workers,” said Afaq Ahmad, a local contractor.
He feared the works undertaken by him might be delayed substantially if the migrant workers do not return to Kashmir before soon.
While officials maintain no data on migrant workers, as per a conservative estimate by the industry, around five lakh labourers come to Kashmir every year in February and work here till December when the winter sets in.
“I was planning to building my new house this April but I guess I will have to put it off for a while as local labourers have started demanding more wages than the rates prevalent last year,” said Suhail Mir, a local resident.

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‘Chowkidar’: PM, HM, Def Min, ors add prefix on Twitter

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New Delhi, Mar 17: A day after launching the “Main Bhi Chowkidar (I am a watchman too)” campaign on social media, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday changed the title of his Twitter account to “Chowkidar Narendra Modi”.
Similarly, Minister of Finance, Arun Jaitley, Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, and Home Minister Rajnath Singh and all other ministers and bigwigs at Centre and within the party added ‘Chowkidar’ to their titles on Twitter.
BJP President Amit Shah followed with “Chowkidar Amit Shah”, and tweeted: “The one who made cleanliness a moral value… he is called Chowkidar #MainBhiChowkidar. Say with all your heart #ChowkidarPhirSe (watchman again).”
Shah’s remarks came after senior BJP leaders and Union Ministers Piyush Goyal, J.P. Nadda, Harsh Vardhan and Dharmendra Pradhan followed suit, changing their names similarly on Twitter accounts.
On Saturday after Modi launched his party’s “Main Bhi Chowkidar (I am a watchman too)” campaign ahead of the general election that begins in April. He posted a video with the same title on Twitter, saying: “Your Chowkidar is standing firm and serving the nation”.
The campaign counters Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s repeated attacks on Modi and his government over various alleged malhandling of economic and defence deals and situations, with the slogan, “Chowkidar Chor Hai (watchman is a thief)”.
“Five years ago, chowkidar said he wanted to fight corruption. He said he wanted to make it a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’. Today, the slogan of ‘Acche Din Aayenge’ has changed to ‘Chowkidar chor hai’,” Gandhi has been repeating at rallies.
Gandhi latched on to the word “chowkidar” as Modi during the 2014 Lok Sabha campaigning promised to work as a “chowkidar” to guard people’s money and their trust once elected.

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