India to keep Kashmir lockdown for Eid on protest fears

Jalees ANDRABI, with Nasir Jaffry in Islamabad
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Vendors wait for customers with their livestock ahead of the Eid al-Adha festival during a security lockdown in Srinagar

Indian authorities are expected to extend a military clampdown in Kashmir ahead of Monday's start of the Eid al-Adha festival on fears protests could break out over its stripping of the Muslim-majority region's autonomy.

Indian-administered Kashmir has been in a security lockdown since last Monday, when India's Hindu-majority government rescinded years of autonomy and gave full control to New Delhi.

Officials eased restrictions earlier Sunday but imposed them again in the afternoon amid a tense atmosphere in the main city of Srinagar.

They plan to keep security tight on Monday to block any big gatherings of people during Eid al-Adha, a major religious holiday for Muslims, a police official and sources in Srinagar told AFP.

"People were apprised of the situation and were asked to celebrate the festival in their neighbourhood. They were told that officials were keeping an eye on the situation and people have been asked to offer prayers locally," the region's police chief Dilbagh Singh said.

Some 500 people took part in protests on Sunday. Indian authorities have stressed that no violence has broken out in the picturesque valley.

Local leaders have warned the loss of autonomy could lead to unrest in a region that has mounted an armed insurgency against Indian rule for three decades, leading to tens of thousands of deaths.

- Fury in Pakistan -

The decision by New Delhi has also sparked fury in Pakistan, with Prime Minister Imran Khan asking earlier Sunday if the international community was just standing by as Indian Hindu nationalism spread into Muslim-majority Kashmir.

Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since the countries' independence in 1947, and they have fought two wars over the former kingdom.

Khan tweeted Sunday that the "ideology of Hindu Supremacy, like the Nazi Aryan Supremacy, will not stop" in Kashmir.

Describing the move as "the Hindu Supremacists version of Hitler's Lebensraum", he said it would lead to "the suppression of Muslims in India & eventually lead to targeting of Pakistan".

Khan also telephoned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday "as part of his outreach to world leaders on the Kashmir situation," a statement issued by his office said.

Officials said Khan would visit the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir this week to show solidarity.

Islamabad has already expelled the Indian ambassador, halted what little bilateral trade exists and suspended cross-border transport services following New Delhi's move on Kashmir.

Spokesman Rajesh Bajpai said on Sunday Indian Railways had suspended its cross-border train service following Pakistan's moves.

- Tensions high -

Tensions also remain fraught in the mountainous Ladakh region, where a local activist told AFP dozens of protesters took part in rallies on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with at least 10 people injured by security forces using tear gas and sticks.

Residents in Indian-controlled Kashmir, meanwhile, said they were struggling to prepare for Eid because of the security crackdown.

A mother who gave her name as Razia said she tried to explain to her daughter that she would not be able to buy her clothes to mark the occasion, as her husband fretted about feeding the family.

"What sort of Eid is this?" asked the 45-year-old in Srinagar.

"We are not even allowed to move outside. My husband is a daily wage labourer but hasn't made any money for the last eight days."

A sheep trader at a Srinagar market, who gave his name as Maqbool, said the number of people buying sacrificial animals for the holiday was sharply lower and he had gone from "huge profits" to a "big loss" this year.

Indian premier Modi insisted last week the decision to strip Kashmir of its autonomy was necessary for its economic development, and also to stop "terrorism".

Under its previous constitutional autonomy, Kashmiris enjoyed special privileges such as the sole right to own land or take government jobs and university scholarships.

With Kashmir now fully part of the Indian union, Modi said the region would enjoy more jobs and less corruption and red tape, adding that key infrastructure projects would be expedited.