In a proof of the fast normalizing situation in Kashmir, centre has decided to withdraw the excess security personnel from the Union Territory. About 7000 additional security personnel have been withdrawn in recognition of the improving situation. In the run up to the withdrawal of Article 370 on August 5, centre had deployed 38000 additional troops to Kashmir. This was in addition to the thousands of soldiers and paramilitary personnel who were stationed in the Valley for Amarnath Yatra. Kashmir was thus under a sweeping security lockdown for the past four and a half month. That the centre is now withdrawing some security testifies to its growing confidence in the improvement of the situation.
On the other hand, the UT Government recently allowed prayers at the Grand Mosque. Though thinly attended even Friday prayers passed without an incident. True, many security restrictions are still in place. For example, government is in no mood to release the detained political leaders and activists. As a result, the Valley is bereft of any political activity which is one of the critical signs of normalcy. Nor is there any indication that the centre is thinking in terms of holding the Assembly election anytime soon.
But the decision to withdraw security personnel and allow prayers at the Grand Mosque in themselves show the Valley’s relentless march towards peace. Government’s response to it, however, hasn’t been commensurate. Reduction of security presence is too little too late. People would want the government to be generous in lifting the restrictions in place. And the biggest of these restrictions is the lingering denial of internet. Both cell and broadband internet service continue to be suspended.
The internet gag is now due to complete five months on January 5. New Delhi has given no indication it is restoring the service anytime soon. And this is impacting every aspect of life in Kashmir. For example, around 300 journalists in the state work from nine computers at a government run media facility for them. Similarly, lakhs of students in the state who need internet for studies and also to apply for fellowships, colleges and jobs have nowhere to go. In fact absence of internet is directly affecting the eight million people of the state. This is already the world’s longest internet shutdown. India has already achieved dubious distinction of being the world’s internet clampdown capital. It is time that the government takes a call on the internet ban. People look forward to it. Without government restoring internet or at least the broadband, relaxation of other restrictions hardly adds up.