India, China clash over Kashmir as it loses special status

KOLKATA: More than 100 migrant workers from India’s Kashmir will be moved after a spate of killings by suspected separatist militants underlined the threat to outsiders in the restive region. Senior officials working for the chief minister of the eastern state of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, said on Saturday she decided to move the workers out of Kashmir to prevent them from becoming a potential target for militant groups who the government says have intensified attacks on civilians belonging to states except Kashmir.


The migrant workers will be identified and moved by train to eastern states, the officials said. Last week, suspected militants barged into a house in southern Kashmir, marched out six men who had come to work in the orchards and paddy fields from West Bengal, lined them up and shot them, police said. Five died, a sixth, who the gunmen had left for dead, survived, to tell the tale that has fanned fears of further attacks on outsiders, officials say.


“We have orders from the state leader to escort all the Bengali laborers out of Kashmir after five Muslim laborers from West Bengal were killed,” said a senior police official in Kolkata, capital of West Bengal. Migrant workers are a soft target for militants, and during the past few weeks 11 have been killed, including the victims of this latest atrocity, the government said.


Much of Kashmir’s economy is dependent on outside laborers who work in construction, hotels and apple orchards. None of the militant groups that are fighting Indian rule in Muslim majority Kashmir claimed responsibility for the attack on migrant workers. The separatist insurgency in Kashmir began three decades ago, but the latest flare up in violence followed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision in August to take away the autonomy previously offered to India’s only Muslim majority state.


India is hoping that by opening up property rights in Kashmir to people from outside the region it can reignite economic growth, create jobs and turn the focus away from a militant uprising in which more than 40,000 people have died. But for the government to have any chance of succeeding, it will have to remove the growing sense of insecurity among Indians who have risked coming to Kashmir to make a living.


India, China clash

Meanwhile, India has engaged in a diplomatic war of words with China over Kashmir as it formally revoked the disputed state’s constitutional autonomy and split it into two federal territories in a bid to integrate it fully into India. Shops and offices were shut in Muslim-majority Kashmir and the streets largely deserted in its main city Srinagar as new administrators were sworn into office in the biggest restructuring of the 173 year-old former princely kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir.


Pakistan, which claims the whole of Kashmir, has condemned the move and protesters took to the streets on its part of the territory. Its ally China, which is locked in a separate decades-old dispute with India over the part of Kashmir called Ladakh, also slammed India for unilaterally changing its status. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Kashmir was a dispute left from history that should be peacefully resolved.


“The Indian government officially announced the establishment of so called Jammu Kashmir territory and Ladakh Union territory which included some of China’s territory into its administrative jurisdiction,” Geng said at a news briefing. “China deplores and firmly opposed that. India unilaterally changes its domestic law and administrative divisions, challenging China’s sovereignty and interests. This is awful and void, and this is not effective in any way and will not change the fact that the area is under China’s actual control.”


India and China fought a war in 1962 and since then have been unable to resolve their border dispute. India’s foreign ministry spokesman rejected China’s comments and said Kashmir was an integral part of the country and that any reorganization of the state was an internal affair. “We do not expect other countries, including China, to comment on the matters which are internal to India, just as India refrains from commenting on internal issues of other countries,” Raveesh Kumar told a news conference.- Agencies