One of Kashmir’s top pro-democracy leaders said India’s promise for a new election on the territory must be accompanied by the release of political prisoners and other measures to restore public confidence.
Mehbooba Mufti, the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, has also called for a financial support package to help repair the region’s battered economy after Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, he stated his intention to restore his elected government.
“They need to reach out to people, then [they] can see that something is moving forward, “Mufti said in an interview with the Financial Times after discussions between Kashmiri leaders and the central government.” Otherwise, it will look like a photo op. “
Modi severely disrupted Kashmir and its tourism-based economy in August 2019 when the government abruptly discarded a constitutional article guaranteeing political autonomy to the only Muslim-majority Indian state, which has been marked by a separatist insurgency backed by Pakistan.
New Delhi has taken direct control and has evacuated more than 20,000 Indian and foreign tourists from Kashmir claiming a threat of terror, put the local population under lock and key and suspended mobile phones or internet services for months.
Several top Kashmiri politicians have been detained, including Mufti, who has spent 14 months in house arrest and detention.
Modi and Amit Shah, India’s interior minister, met with pro-democracy leaders in Kashmir last week for the first time since the political reorganization to present plans for the new elections. However, they did not commit to a timetable and said there would first be a process to redo their ballot paper.
India is under pressure to restore democracy in Kashmir as it engages back-channel talks with Pakistan to improve relations between the two nations, which have fought three wars over the region.
The Modi government is also struggling with strategic pressures from a growing perspective Assertive China and the imminent American withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
Mufti was cautiously optimistic that last week’s meeting marked the start of a process to improve conditions, but criticized Indian authorities for using national security and anti-terror laws to overturn the speech. public on The autonomy of Kashmir.
“They did something we think is illegal and unconstitutional, but you are also prohibited from speaking,” he added.
Mufti said she had ordered Modi to give the Kashmiris “a little respite” to express themselves. “People really feel it drowned”, He said.“ How long can people keep their anger inside? It can make you jump at any time. ”
After taking control of the region, New Delhi has advanced laws to make it easier for foreigners to earn residency, get local government jobs and acquire property, Mufti said.
Such changes, she added, had reinforced fears that the government wanted to change the demographic character of Kashmir and reduce the indigenous population to a minority in its home state.
Mufti said New Delhi will not impose new laws on the territory until an elected government is in place.
“People are really scared,” he said. “There are all kinds of laws that will further disempower the people of the state.”
Mufti also reaffirmed her commitment to restoring Kashmir’s political autonomy, which she said was critical to ensuring “the security of our resources, our jobs and in particular our identity.”