On April 3, authorities in Indian side Kashmir announced plans to bar civilian traffic on the Srinagar-Jammu Highway, a key road link, for two days a week. This is purportedly part of security measures ahead of the coming elections. However, the move has been severely criticized by all sections of Kashmiri society, which have called it ‘anti-people’ and a step in turning Kashmir into “another Gaza.”
The highway connects northern Kashmir with the southern part, and with the rest of northern India. Only military vehicles and convoys will be allowed to use the stretch on Sunday and Wednesdays till May 31.
The move cause severe difficulties for residents. Media reports say at least seven districts will be affected. “Our main hospitals, colleges, schools and many other essential places are located on the highway. The road is not meant for the military to travel to different cantonments. It’s a lifeline for residents. What shall they do during these shut downs?”, Khalid Nazir, who frequently travels on the Baramulla-Udhampur highway, told Peoples Dispatch.
According to the governor of the State, SP Malik, the decision was made to “facilitate unhindered movement of security forces convoys and elimination of the possibilities of suicide attacks during the ongoing election process”. On February 13, a 20-year-old resident of Kashmir, Adil Dar, blew himself up in a suicide attack, killing 50 Indian security personnel. The incident led to brief military engagements between India and Pakistan although a full-fledged war was averted.
However, political parties and experts, both in Kashmir and the rest of the country, see the decision to close the highway as an act of collective punishment. Former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti slammed the decision. M.Y, Tarigami, an MLA of the CPI(M), called for the immediate withdrawal of the notification, while Shah Faesal of the newly-formed Jammu and Kashmir Peoples’ Movement said he would approach the court on the issue.
“The government needs to withdraw this diktat and stop punishing the people of Kashmir,” said Mirwaiz Umer, senior resistance leader, who also heads the Awami Action Committee.
“Closing the Jammu-Srinagar highway is the worst anti-people move I’ve seen in 30 years of militancy. Hundreds of schools and hospitals can only be accessed via this crucial road. Stark admission that the mighty State forces can only rule through force. Expect further alienation,” journalist Harinder Baweja, said.
Since the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, Kashmir has been claimed in its entirety by both countries. The region has seen three decades of armed insurgency, with the demand for self-determination. An estimated 700,000 Indian soldiers, paramilitary and police are stationed in Kashmir, making it the most densely militarized region in the world.