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Heightened Security Keeps Kashmir in Lockdown

Indian migrant workers wait outside the government transport yard waiting to buy bus tickets to leave the region, during curfew in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Aug. 7, 2019.

Indian Kashmir remained in a state of heightened security to prevent protests, but despite a heavy deployment of troops, scattered incidents of stone throwing by small groups were reported in the capital, Srinagar.

Two days after New Delhi scrapped the seven-decade-old special status that allowed Kashmir to make its own laws and split it into two federally administered territories, Srinagar resembled a city under siege.

The measures that tighten New Delhi’s control on the region are expected to provoke widespread resentment in the Muslim-majority Himalayan region where anti-India sentiment runs high.

There was no immediate reaction in India to Pakistan’s decision Wednesday to downgrade diplomatic ties with India and suspend bilateral trade.

Both Pakistan and China, which both claim parts of the region, have strongly opposed India’s sudden move to change Kashmir’s status.

After China expressed “serious concerns” on Tuesday, a foreign ministry spokesman in New Delhi said “India does not comment on internal affairs of other countries and similarly expects other countries to do likewise.”

Across the region, streets in major towns remain deserted as thousands of armed paramilitary troops and police patrolled. Only emergency hospital services are functioning.

There is no indication of when authorities will lift the strict clampdown that prevents public meetings of more than four people and restore telecommunication networks that have been shut down. With cable television networks also suspended, news that the region’s autonomy has been revoked has been trickling in slowly.

But with the Muslim festival of Eid less than a week away, authorities are expected to gradually ease some of the restrictions.

India’s National Security advisor Ajit Doval met police officials and some Kashmiris to assess the situation on Wednesday. Television networks showed him sharing a meal with local residents on a deserted roadside in Shopian town.

Over 100 local politicians and activists have been arrested, according to the Press Trust of India. The most high profile leaders in detention are two former Chief Ministers of the state, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.

Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has long supported revoking Kashmir’s autonomy, few had expected the announcement to come just two months into his second term.

The action has plunged the insurgency-scarred region into fresh uncertainty at a time when it showed signs of normalcy. The summer tourist season was going well, schools were functioning and strikes and street demonstrations that frequently wrack the region had not taken place for nearly a year.

Political commentators have warned that Indian authorities face a “long haul” in keeping a lid on protests in Kashmir where a separatist insurgency by Islamic militants has taken a toll of tens of thousands so far.