Pakistan's Kashmir Leader Says India Has Built 'World's Largest Open Air Prison' Across Border

The leader of Pakistan-administered Kashmir has condemned India's ongoing crackdown on its share of the contested border territory, calling on world powers to intervene.

In a conversation with Newsweek, Azad Kashmir Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider called Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's decision earlier this month to repeal Indian-administered Kashmir's decades-old special status and a subsequent crackdown "a crime against humanity." Echoing Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, he called for global intervention, including from President Donald Trump.

"India should be stopped and it's the duty of the United States of America," Haider told Newsweek. "It's the duty of the American government, the American people."

The senior Pakistani Muslim League politician also appealed to regional powers such as China and Russia, along with Europe, saying "the time has come for the rest of the world, either they want to support human rights or they want to trade with a country like India that violates them."

india kashmir border lockdown
The clock tower at deserted Lal Chowk is pictured during a security lockdown in Srinagar, August 19. India on August 5 ended the special constitutional status of Muslim-majority Kashmir, where a 30-year-old uprising against Indian rule has killed tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians. PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP/Getty Images

Kashmir has been a subject of tensions between India and Pakistan since the two modern states were born out of bloody partition in 1947 of what was a united territory under the control of the United Kingdom. Since then, the two rival neighbors have fought three wars, two of which have been over Kashmir, which continues to see deadly clashes on both sides of the contested Line of Control. On one side of the line, India controls the state of Jammu and Kashmir; on the other side, Pakistan administers Azad Kashmir.

India and Pakistan have long accused one another of supporting militant groups, but the situation deteriorated dramatically in February when the Pakistan-based Islamist Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for a suicide attack that killed 40 Indian security personnel in Kashmir's Pulwama district. India responded with cross-border strikes that were met with retaliatory Pakistani attacks and a dogfight in which India lost at least one aircraft. The pilot of the crashed plane was captured across the border.

Pakistan returned the detained pilot, but calm did not prevail in the restive region and fears of a new conflict were once again raised following India's decision earlier this month to repeal Article 370. The partition-era measure grants India's majority-Muslim share of Kashmir semi-autonomy. Modi's administration hailed the move as a "historic" step toward quelling unrest, but Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a strong reaction, warning the resulting discontent would only lead to more cross-border tensions, or even nuclear war between the two.

"We are very concerned in this part of Pakistan that anything could happen," Haider told Newsweek. "Kashmir is a flashpoint"

President Donald Trump has previously expressed interest in mediating between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, a move welcomed by Islamabad but rejected by New Delhi. As they sat down together at Monday's G7 summit in France, Modi called Kashmir "a bilateral issue" and Trump said the Indian leader "really feels he has it under control."

Asked about the issue on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova recalled previous conversations with Pakistan and India, saying Moscow has "emphasized the need to de-escalate tensions and that there is lack of alternatives to address the existing differences between Pakistan and India on a bilateral basis by using political and diplomatic tools only."

Haider warned, however, that if the situation was allowed to deteriorate, the Line of Control could be reduced to a ceasefire line as it was known prior to the signing of the Simla Agreement in 1972. He told Newsweek that "after what Mr. Modi has done by ignoring U.N. resolutions on Kashmir and other bilateral agreements, now there is no Line of Control."

india border dispute kashmir pakistan
A map published in 2002 shows India's disputed borders at the Line of Control with Pakistan and Line of Actual Control with China. CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY

While Haider called India-administered Kashmir "the world's largest open-air prison" and warned "the reign of terror that India has unleashed in Jammu and Kashmir should be stopped," the governor of the closed-down territory Satya Pal Malik listed on Sunday the alleged benefits of the new rules, which he claimed were made "keeping in minding the long term welfare of the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and to enable them to participate and benefit from the all-around economic development taking place in the rest of the country."

"For the last few decades, the people of Jammu and Kashmir have been victims of separatist propaganda and cross-border terrorism which has cost the lives of thousands of inhabitants of the state and the country. The intent of these terrorists has been to create an atmosphere of fear and terror and to block socio-economic development that would benefit ordinary people of the state," Malik's flyer said.

Malik has disputed reports of food and medicine shortages, but told a press conference Wednesday that that "phone and internet is used less by us and mostly by terrorists and Pakistanis as well as for mobilization and indoctrination, it is a kind of weapon used against us so we have stopped it," adding that "services will be resumed gradually." He also promised 50,000 jobs for Kashmir's youth, claiming the region "will see so much development in the coming days that people in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir will also start asking for the same kind of development."

In a statement sent to Newsweek, however, Amnesty International India Executive Director Aakar Patel said that "life has been derailed for the people of Jammu and Kashmir" since the crackdown earlier this month.

"The communication blockade and security clampdown, the alleged detention of political leaders and restrictions on media to report has created an information black hole in Jammu and Kashmir, a region which has witnessed serious human rights violations in the past," he added. "Depriving an entire population of their right to freedom of expression, opinion and movement for an indefinite period runs squarely counter to international norms and standards. Worse, it gives the Government of India a near-total control over the information coming out of the region."

He also warned that restrictions on media made it difficult to determine the status of reportedly detained political leaders or the number of casualties in recent clashes with security forces, warning, "This turns the fear of human rights violations that may occur yet remain unreported into a reality which only stands to perpetuate impunity and diminish accountability in Jammu and Kashmir—a culture the Government of India continues to extend in spite of its promises of development and change."

A spokesperson for the United Nations Human Rights Office also told Newsweek that "the human rights situation in Kashmir has deteriorated since the Government of India revoked constitutional provisions granting the special status to the state."

"The U.N. Human Rights Office remains deeply concerned about reports of ongoing detentions of a broad range of people in Kashmir and lack of information about their status," the spokesperson added. "In addition, the U.N. Human Rights Office urges the lifting of all communications restrictions not just landlines. There are concerns that the restrictions have adversely affected people's ability to access healthcare from basic medicine to hospital facilities for procedures like chemotherapy and kidney dialysis."

india kashmir soldier lockdown border
A security personnel stands guard on a street in Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir, August 28. India has promised to accelerate development and gradually loosen media restrictions in the restive region. TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images

A group of U.N. experts has also issued a statement arguing that the "shutdown of the internet and telecommunication networks, without justification from the Government, are inconsistent with the fundamental norms of necessity and proportionality." It continued, warning that the "blackout is a form of collective punishment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, without even a pretext of a precipitating offence."

The experts also called for allegations of mass arrests and detainments to be "thoroughly investigated," saying they were "gravely concerned about allegations that the whereabouts of some of those detained is not known as well as the general heightened risk of enforced disappearances, which may proliferate against the backdrop of mass arrests and restricted access to the internet and other communications networks."

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres' spokesperson "has been following the situation in Jammu and Kashmir with concern and makes an appeal for maximum restraint," according to his spokesperson. The leader also voiced his support for the Simla Agreement and said he was "concerned over reports of restrictions on the Indian side of Kashmir, which could exacerbate the human rights situation in the region," calling for "all parties to refrain from taking steps that could affect the status of Jammu and Kashmir."

India's Foreign Ministry, Home Ministry and local authorities in Kashmir did not respond to Newsweek's requests for comment.

Update: (10:10 a.m. 8/29/2019) This article has been updated to include a statement from Amnesty International India.

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