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Highway closure order triggers outrage in Kashmir

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From politicians to Kashmir Inc, all oppose the decision; term it undemocratic, anti-people

Srinagar, Apr 04:  Government’s decision to curb civilian traffic on the Jammu-Kashmir highway to secure convoy movement has caused widespread outrage in the Valley with political and business leaders demanding its immediate revocation.

Almost all Valley politicians including three former chief ministers have slammed the decision to curb civilian traffic on the highway.

Rapping the government decision to block Kashmir-Jammu highway for two days a week, former chief minister Farooq Abdullah said the highway was not closed even during the Kargil war when intelligence reports suggested suicide attackers were at large.

"What is happening for God's sake. Are you trying to make Kashmir a colony of the British?" Abdullah asked and termed the Governor Satya Pal Malik-led administration's decision as interference with citizens' fundamental rights.

According to the order issued on Wednesday by state Home Secretary Shaleen Kabra, no civilian traffic will be allowed to move from Baramulla in north Kashmir to Udhampur in Jammu region on Sundays and Wednesdays till May 31.

The restrictions on civilian traffic on the 271-km highway will remain in force from 4 am to 5 pm, said the order, which follows the suicide attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama. The highway passes through important towns such as Anantnag, Awantipora, Pampore, Srinagar, Pattan and Baramulla.

"The fundamental rights of people are being tampered with," Abdullah was quoted as saying by PTI.

"We brought the state from the 1989 turmoil to 2014 when tourism was booming in the state and separatists had become redundant. Look where we are now?" asked the NC patron, who is contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Srinagar.

"We have never seen such a situation. Even during Kargil war when intelligence reports suggested suicide attackers were roaming, such a decision was never taken," he added.

"The national highway is the lifeline of people. Patients pass (through the highway), marriages take place, tourists come...  Those passing such orders must have surrendered their ability to think before acting," he said.

"GoI's current approach towards Kashmir has been consistent only when it comes to repression. Suffocate Kashmiris, throw them in jails, deprive them of basic rights and make them suffer,” former chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti said.

"They only want Kashmir. Don't give two hoots about what happens to its people (sic)," Mufti tweeted.

Former chief minister Omar Abdullah, too in a series of tweets slammed the diktat: "Has anyone in the administration applied their minds before planning to issue this highway closure order?

"Jammu and Kashmir is not Chhattisgarh or Andhra Pradesh where there are alternate routes. Here if you close the national highway you shut down all access to the valley. This is a lifeline."

"I've made this suggestion before and in light of today's highway closure order I feel the need to repeat it -- why can't the forces travel between Banihal and Baramulla by special trains? Quicker, safer and more comfortable for the security forces."

Terming the government’s decision to restrict vehicular movement on Baramulla- Srinagar- Jammu highway as undemocratic and anti-people move, Peoples Conference chairman Sajad Gani Lone said such measures would trigger humanitarian crisis in Kashmir.

Addressing a series of election meetings in Lolab Assembly segment, Lone said the State government should not carve a militaristic identity for itself and that military needs will always have to remain subservient to civilian needs”.

“At a time when the state is gripped with an extended sense of alienation and persecution, these measures will further exacerbate the situation. It has made a mockery of civil liberties and will have a long-term impact,” Lone said.

He said the highway serves as the main communication artery of the state linking it with rest of the country, and imposing restrictions on it will severe this link not just physically but emotionally too.

“Such a step has definitely sent out the wrong message and will create unnecessary inconvenience which will harm both the interests of the government and the people alike,” he said.

The decision was also criticised by senior separatist leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq who called the decision "dictatorial".

“Another anti-people dictatorial move of the government to close the national highway for two days which will cause great distress to people. Government should withdraw this diktat and stop punishing people of Kashmir,” Mirwaiz said in a tweet.

Another former chief minister and Congress Rajya Sabha leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said the government "should work out a more people-friendly strategy than disallowing all civilian traffic for two days in a week".

Prohibiting traffic movement on Jammu-Srinagar highway from Baramulla for two days in a week is a hasty decision which must be revoked in the larger interest of the people, Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) president G.A. Mir said.

“The government has taken the decision in haste that will prove to be perilous to the civilians, so I emphasize the government to revoke the prohibition order forthwith in the larger interest of common people,” he added.

Senior CPI(M) leader and former MLA M Y Tarigami too asked the government to offer alternatives before imposing the ban.

"The decision must be a security issue, but why should a common man be put to avoidable hardships for whom all this security bandobast is meant?" Tarigami questioned.

In a statement issued here, the CPI(M) leader said, "What will be the fate of those patients who have to be brought from the other districts of the valley and need immediate treatment in hospitals in Srinagar? What kind of logic is this? A patient can't wait till a pass is issued, as in some cases it can prove disastrous and life threatening."

The former legislator from south Kashmir's Kulgam said the convoy movement timing must be devised in a way so as there is no inconvenience to the general public.

Former IAS officer-turned-politician, Shah Faesal tweeted: "Policies imported from Israel will turn Kashmir into Palestine.

"The decision to close national highway to civilian traffic on every Wednesday and Sunday is extremely shocking. @RajnathSingh_in how will the employees attend office? How will patients travel? School children?"

The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) warned the state government that the decision would have disastrous consequences.

KCCI president Sheikh Ashiq said the order was issued without considering its impact on the people of Kashmir and was indicative of the lack of awareness of local issues.

"At a time when the Kashmir Chamber has been raising the issue of lack of alternative routes and means of travel to Kashmir, the closure of the only available road link would put the whole population to unimaginable inconvenience and will have disastrous consequences for our economy," he said.

“How could the government issue such an unreasonable order?” asked Mushtaq Chaya, a prominent businessman, who is also chairman PHDCCI Kashmir and hoteliers’ club.

Chaya said the ban will not only cut the Valley from rest of the world but also bring untold miseries to the local populace which is already under so much distress.

“On one hand they are talking about bringing tourists to the Kashmir valley and the other they are passing such ‘Israeli-style’ orders,” rued Chaya. “What is the message that the government wants to convey?”

Chaya said that a delegation of tourism stakeholders are visiting the valley in next few days to take stock of the situation. “What will they make out of the situation here when you block the roads for the civilian traffic?” he asked.

Appealing the government to immediately withdraw the order, Chaya asked the authorities to look for an alternative arrangement for the movement of forces’ personnel.

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