India PM rejects foreign ‘advice’ on Kashmir dispute

Modi offers $12bn in aid to India-administered Kashmir but critics say resolution of political dispute is key to peace.

Modi in Kashmir
The opposition denounced Modi's speech, saying he had made a mistake 'by weighing [the] Kashmir issue in rupees' [Baba Umar/Al Jazeera]

Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rejected foreign “advice and analysis” on disputed Kashmir as authorities scuttled a proposed “million march” called by pro-independence groups to protest against Modi’s visit.

Modi, speaking on Saturday, said India would instead follow former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s doctrine “to address Kashmir’s problems”.

“On Kashmir, I don’t need anyone’s advice or analysis. There can’t be a better message than what Vajpayee offered,” Modi said in his address to hundreds of supporters in the summer capital, Srinagar.

“He [Vajpayee] talked about Kashmir’s pluralistic ethos, democracy and humanity to solve your issues. India will consolidate these three pillars in Kashmir.” 

Vajpayee had offered to settle the Kashmir dispute in a spirit of “humanity” and friendship with Pakistan during his 2003 visit to the region.

Modi also offered a financial package of $12bn to the restive region, marred by a low-intensity conflict since 1989 between more than half a dozen rebel groups – who are seeking independence or the merger of the territory with neighbouring Pakistan – and nearly a million Indian troops.

“The major issue in Kashmir is unemployment. India will address it … Also Kashmir was every Indian family’s dream destination. I will bring back the lost glory of Kashmir. Tourism will flourish once again,” Modi said, as well as promising the return of international cricket to the region.

Security lockdown

The Himalayan region was put on high alert ahead of his visit, with snipers on rooftops, hundreds of road obstacles and sniffer dogs near the venue of his speech.

Authorities blocked the internet and imposed an undeclared daytime curfew in many parts of Srinagar, barring residents from leaving their homes.

Only those with “special passes” were allowed to reach the Sher-e-Kashmir cricket stadium where Modi addressed supporters.

All the roads leading to the venue were lined with concertina razor wire to block any pedestrian, or vehicular movement, while police and paramilitary forces patrolled on foot and in armoured vehicles.

The rally venue was bedecked with huge flags and banners showing Modi’s face and politicians of regional government.

Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) shares power in the region with the local pro-India Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) whose leaders flanked the prime minister at the stadium.

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Authorities on Saturday also blocked a popular football ground in the city with coils of razor wires where pro-independence parties proposed to hold a “million march” in protest against Modi’s visit.

Hundreds of pro-independence activists and leaders were arrested in the days before Modi’s visit.

Inside Story – Allegations of abuse in India-administered Kashmir

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since 1947 over rival claims to Kashmir.

India accuses Pakistan of supporting the rebels with arms – a charge Islamabad denies, saying it only offers moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiris.

Rights groups say nearly 100,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and thousands have disappeared in the armed revolt and subsequent army operations. 

Waheed Para, leader of the PDP, which is allied with Modi, called his visit a “significant day for Kashmir”.

“Not just economically, but politically as well. We welcome his decision to revive the legacy of Vajpayee. He has given a very different touch to the Kashmir issue,” Para told Al Jazeera.

“The economic package was badly needed by Kashmiris who suffered from 2014 floods. With this money our party would be able to accomplish the promises we have made to them during elections [last year].”

But immediately after the speech, leaders of the region’s main opposition party, the National Conference (NC), condemned Modi’s financial package, saying the “same mistake” on Kashmir is being repeated.

“The Indian prime minister has made the same mistake by weighing Kashmir issue in rupees,” the NC’s Omar Abdullah wrote on Twitter.

Observers like Sheikh Showkat, who teaches law at the Central University in Kashmir, said Modi’s development paradigm would have no value in Kashmir unless the dispute is solved.

“Modi remained indifferent to the real issue which haunts India, Pakistan and Kashmir, and is everyday manifested in the streets of the region,” he told Al Jazeera.

Showkat said the package of $12bn remains nothing “but a cumulative cost of ongoing development projects mainly aimed for mobility and communications to the advantage of massive security establishment in the region”.

“Modi may pretend his focus was on development, but development is not possible without peace, which hinges on the political resolution of Kashmir dispute,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera